Measuring Our Worth

According to a National Geographic Magazine article entitled “Fly Like a Fly“,  by Joel Achenbach, (1) the common and often irritating housefly is a marvel of insect engineering.

Achenbach shared that evidently the fly is superior even to birds, bees, and bats when it comes to acrobatic capabilities. Did you know that a typical fly can fly straight up, hover, fly backwards, perform somersaults, and then land on the ceiling? Not only can they perform amazing feats of acrobatics, but scientists have further discovered that nearly two-thirds of a typical housefly’s entire nervous system is dedicated to the processing of visual imagery. This coupled with their large compound eyes, gives the housefly the capacity to perceive full panoramic imagery and makes them especially adept at detecting motion. (Probably why many a fly has escaped my efforts with the flyswatter.)  When God designed the fly, a lot of attention to detail went into His effort.

Knowing this, can you imagine for a moment how much more God loves us, his crowning achievement, given the amazing design effort he put forth for the fly?

How do we evaluate our worth? I admit that there are days where I feel like I don’t even measure up to the humble housefly.

Thankfully our worth is actually known. Dr. Ken Boa noted that scriptures tell us that our worth is “determined by what Christ was willing to do for us” (2) rather than what we can do for Christ. In today’s cultural climate, our sense of worth is often distorted because our culture frequently links self-worth to our life’s accomplishments, finances, our popularity, political views, talents etc.

There are times along life’s journey where I feel very much like I have not done all that I could have done. I look at so many of my friends, family, co-workers, and others that have done such great things in their lives. Yet by comparison, my few contributions don’t seem to have even nudged the needle in life.

At one point in my life, I reflected upon all of this and realized that I have no great stories to tell, I’m not a hero, I’m not particularly intelligent, nor do I poses any special gifts in music or other talents. I’m just an average everyday kind of person slugging through life. It was rather humbling and even discouraging to consider.

In the midst of this disheartening self-evaluation of my life, God reminded me of how much I am cherished. The scriptures say that “…we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”(3) We are loved by God, a God that is rich in his mercies and loves us so much that he has given us eternal life through the work of his son Jesus.

There may be times when I “feel” like I don’t measure up to my ideas about my life, and when that happens, I’ve found that I need to recall that God does not ask me to base my relationship and eternal worth on my feelings, rather he asks me to trust Him and respond to him in faith. Because of his grace we are elevated, adopted into God’s family and have a seat at the table of the King.  (Romans 8:15) All of this is possible because of the work of Christ on the cross and not by anything I could possibly have done on my own. (Ephesians 2:9)

A dear pastor friend of mine once shared a sermon that included the passage from Ephesians 2:7, which speaks of God’s desire to pour out his continued blessings in our lives.(4) In his sermon, he spoke of how God’s kindness and love towards us is so great and so vast that the gifts he desires to give us will take “ages” for God to fullfill.(5)

Not only does God pour out His blessings upon us, but with these blessings he gives us purpose in our lives. Our purposes are unique to who we are and to what it is that God desires for us to do in his kingdom.

The Apostle Paul reminded me that some have greater more visible roles than others, yet all are needed in God’s kingdom. (Romans 12:5) What I have learned is that my worth isn’t in what I do, it’s in how I respond in faith to the assignment God desires for me to do. God doesn’t ask me to pre-approve his assignment for me, he simply hands me my assignment. It’s up to me to decide if I accept the assignment in faith, trusting that God has a greater and grander purpose in why he chose that particular assignment for me.

Each of us has an important part to play in God’s Kingdom. We are each given  a variety assignments over the course of our earthly lifetimes, each designed to uniquely contribute to God’s purposes. We may never know on this side of heaven the exact purpose of our assignment, but to reject such an assignment is to reject the blessings that God will give us for our faithfulness.

One assignment that never changes is the assignment to understand and place first in our lives our relationship with Christ. We need to know Christ, we need to know his heart, we need to accept his love and forgiveness in our lives. We need to spend time in his word, in prayer, and in so doing magnify his love in our lives while learning to recognize and hear his voice. (1 Kings 19:12, John 10:3)

The trouble I sometimes face is that I have in mind what I would like my assignments to look like. Our views to this end are often influenced by our emotions and the need for recognition we feel like we deserve. The truth is we don’t deserve anything but separation from God, yet he still pursued us with his everlasting love. (Romans 5:8, John 3:16-17)

To be clear, not everyone will receive an assignment that puts them in the limelight or gives them a sense of continued worth and value from those around us. In fact, most assignments in this life will be humble but critical ones. If we seek to be like Jesus we should be aware of the virtues God values, and God values humility over pride. (Proverbs 8:13, Matthew 18:4)

When our focus shifts away from serving our Lord, when we allow pride to enter into to the equation,we will start to feel like what we are doing is not important, or fails to give me the recognition I feel I deserve, it’s then that our joy will be gone, our hearts will be barren, and what we do will become hollow. In this state we become distant from our Lord and that distance hinders our ability to hear God, which in turn hurts the body of Christ.

In the scriptures, the apostle Paul illustrated the critical nature of our assignments by comparing our assignments to that of the human body. No part of the human body is useless, all parts, no matter how humble or visible, serve critical roles to ensure the health of the body. (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)

Likewise we see this illustration extended when we speak of all believers throughout the world as the body of Christ. We each have roles or assignments that God has given to us. God is not frivolous nor operates without purpose, each assignment given is critical.

Perhaps some get the assignment to be the beautiful voice that will sing songs of worship or preach, perhaps others will serve quietly and faithfully functioning day after day behind the scenes of life, thus enabling the voice of the body to do its role for the whole of the body. Like the human body, the reality is that most of what goes on in the body of Christ is more invisible than visible, but no less critical.

When we speak of the body of Christ and our roles, we speak of our function within God’s kingdom as a whole. His kingdom is here and now, it’s where we worship, live, and work. Don’t ever be discouraged by your assignment, but rather carry out your assignment faithfully. Doing so will have the effect of building up the body of Christ.

Perhaps your assignment is to be a faithful parent to your children, to do the chores in the home God has given you, to care for an elderly parent, to be the heart of Jesus to people in your workplace or school, to deal with the harsh aspects of a fallen humanity in some form of public service. Perhaps it’s to empty out the trash at church, to wash the floors, or to mow the lawns.

Remember, it’s not about achieving recognition in the eyes of others, nor is it doing something to make me feel good inside. It’s about being faithful in the assignment God has given us, even when we don’t get encouraging feedback from the people around us.

Our true worth can be measured by the faith we extend to God as we live out our assignments faithfully. Recognize that no other creature in God’s creation have been given the privilege nor the capacity to express the love of Christ to the world at large except us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(1)Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008), 51–52.

(2) Kenneth Boa, Handbook to Spiritual Growth: Twelve Facets of the Spiritual Life (Atlanta, GA: Trinity House Publishers, Inc., 2008), 140.

(3) The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Eph 2:10.

(4) The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Eph 2:7.

(5) “God’s plans to showers us with kindness,” Tom Marcum Sermon Notes (November 8, 2015)

 

Why Should We Be Good?

In his parents eyes there was never a doubt that he had the raw intelligence and ability to excel, but like many kids his age, success in school seemed to be elusive. It was clear that after his first year in High School that something would have to fundamentally change to enable success in his remaining three years.

His  parents rightly understood that the basic issues he faced were related to a lack of focus and clarity of objectives, coupled with the right incentives to help cultivate an internal desire to apply himself and perform at his fullest potential.

They were also aware of studies that demonstrated a correlation between high school GPA  and success in later life. Academic performance in high school had been shown to be directly linked to subsequent success in college and the obtainment of an increased lifetime income. Higher performing students increase their probability of successfully completing a college degree college from 21% to 42%. Additionally, for every point increase in GPA a typical student in high school would expect to see an increase in earned lifetime income between 12% and 14%. (1)

With all of this in mind his parents took a step back in order to devise the best approach to help their son be successful. First they recognized that their son didn’t have the emotional maturity to cope with the distractions found in his current high school setting. Every child is different in their level of maturity and parents need to assess this realistically. Fortunately they understood that there was a difference between chronological maturity and emotional maturity, and that they needed to develop an appropriate plan that considered both of these elements.

To help bring focus and remove distractions they elected to place their son in an on-line learning environment. In this environment all assignments, grades and expectations were clear and transparent to both the student and the parents. Feedback on quizzes and tests were instantaneous.

While this decision helped in terms of focus and clarity of expectations, it still failed to address the matter of motivation of the heart which would be required for their son to succeed.

These parents wisely recognized that motivation to achieve worked best when it came from within. While some level of progress could be made by applying external pressures, the real life-long successes would only come when their child drove himself internally to achieve.

To address this they devised a simple set of rewards that provided quick feedback in practical terms. The on-line education program had a combination of quizzes, mid-terms, and finals as the principle sources for grades. For each type of evaluation his parents created a sliding scale that linked grades to tangible near term financial rewards.

The rules were simple, they were printed and placed on the wall next to his desk. Only grades “C” and above would be eligible for a payment each Friday at the end of the day for the previous week’s of work. Quizzes were worth less than mid-terms, and mid-terms less than finals.

Inside each test category, the financial rewards were structured such that a “C” grade merited a very modest payout, a “B” grade was considerably more, and an “A” would be exponentially more. (Typically 2X the “B” grade.)  This model  recognized that it would take considerably more effort to move from a “C” to a “B” then likewise from a “B” to an “A,” but the rewards were structured to reflect the commensurate effort required as the student advanced to the next higher level of grade performance.

In the first year under this approach his parents saw modest yet consistent improvements across the board. Not only in grades, but in their son’s level of self-direction and discipline to get things done. During this time trust was built as he found that the payout was real each week. He readily spent his earnings on lots of little things and found himself wanting in terms of needing additional cash.

During the second and subsequent years until he graduated from High School, the strategy changed by his own volition. He recognized how much money he was leaving on the table by settling on  “C” and “B” kind of performance and started to aim for “A” level performance.

Interestingly by his own request he elected to not take cash each week, rather he wrote his cumulative earnings on a white board that hung on the wall next to his desk. The growing balance soon became its own source of encouragement and the grades he earned were no longer the goals, they simply became a by-product of his focused efforts, discipline, and perseverance in studying.  At the end of each school year his parents gave him the full balance of his reward and the process repeated itself the next year.

During this period his parents no longer had to manage his homework assignments at a tactical level. He was able to manage his own time and meet all required deadlines on his own. They told him that if he needed help to study or needed to escalate something beyond a teacher to get resolution on any matter, then they were there for him to help him succeed. In the last two years he operated at a near 4.0 GPA!

In some ways many believers and followers of Christ are a bit like that high school student.

In our case God serves as our heavenly parent and much like this boy’s parents, God deeply loves us and desires for us to be in a healthy and successful relationship with him.

The wonderful news is that once we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ we are adopted into God’s  family forever.  Our salvation is secure, even if we subsequently elect to live a life that’s less than honoring to God.  Our eternity is covered by God’s grace and not subject to revocation.  No where in the scriptures are there cases where believers are “un-adopted” by God.

Given the certainty of our eternal security, what then is our motivation to honor God in the way we live out our lives in the here and now?  Why should we be good?

The answer lies in God’s own reward system for us.

Much like the young high school student who watched his rewards grow on his white board as he made healthy choices to do what was right in school, similarly we can be assured that God is keeping our treasure in heaven stored up and safe as we do the right things for God’s kingdom.

Jesus said:

“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20, NIV)

It turns out that God has devised a means of rewards that will directly impact our standing and scope of responsibilities throughout eternity. The scriptures tell us that he maintains a record of all of our deeds in this life, and that God knows our hearts and the purity of our motives in the things we choose to do.

The bible speaks of a time when each of us will come before God to be judged. During that time God will first check to ensure that our names are written in the “Book of Life.” It’s here that the names of every believer are recorded. Those whose names appear are granted to join God in eternal life. If not, then they  will be forever banished from God’s presence, sentenced to a place that the bible calls Hell for all of eternity. For those of us that are listed in the “Book of Life” there will also be a review of our Earthly lives and how we lived them out.

The Apostle John mentions in the book of Revelation of other “books” in addition to the “Book of Life:”

“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.” (Revelation 20:12–13, NIV) –Emphasis mine

Unlike the “Book of Life,” these “books” have recorded within them all the deeds we have done in our lives. These deeds will be evaluated to determine the type and quantity of our reward that God will give to each of us.

It’s critical to note that with respect to this part of judgement, where God looks at the deeds of our life,  that our eternal standing is never in question. Once our names are written  in the “Book of Life” they are never erased. Our God is thankfully a God of grace beyond our own understanding or comprehension.  We cannot loose our salvation because we dropped the ball in terms of how we lived out our lives after receiving Christ as our savior. Rather God’s  review of our life deeds will be used solely to determine the type and amount of our eternal reward that God will give to each of us. The apostle Paul spoke of this idea in his letter to the church in Ephesus:

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.” (Ephesians 6:7–8, NIV)

Here we see the idea of God rewarding believers no matter their social standing or occupational standing in this earthly life. Notice too that the rewards given are given to the the individual. That each person will be evaluated based upon individual conduct. There are no group or team rewards given.

In another letter,  Paul writes to the church in Corinth where he shared additional details regarding the day of judgement that each of us will one day face.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV)

Observe in this passage that the tone continues with the idea of rewards for conduct. No where does Paul suggest that a believer’s salvation is contingent upon our conduct. This makes perfect sense if we understand our salvation to be entirely based upon God’s grace and not on any contribution on our part:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NIV)

Paul speaks of God reviewing both the “good” and the “bad” things that we did while alive in our bodies as believers. He never states that our salvation might be in jeopardy based upon the “bad” things we might have done as believers.

Matthew recorded Jesus’ comments on the subject of rewards:

“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” (Matthew 16:27, NIV)

Here we can see that those who honor God and who properly use their gifts and resources in this life to further God’s kingdom will be rewarded in his future kingdom.

When speaking on the topic of living out our lives in righteousness, Jesus warned that our motives for doing good things must be pure. God will not reward those whose motives and hearts are not genuine:

“ ‘Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.’ ” (Matthew 6:1, NIV)

Jesus spoke again as recorded in Matthew on the topic of rewards. In the following statements we can see that not all rewards are equal.

“ ‘For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.’ ” (Matthew 25:29, NIV)

Charles Stanley in his excellent book, “Eternal Security: Can you be Sure,” shared the following:

“The kingdom of God will not be the same for all believers. Let me put it another way. Some believers will have rewards for their earthly faithfulness; others will not. Some believers will be entrusted with certain privileges; others will not. Some will reign with Christ; others will not (see 2 Tim. 2:12). Some will be rich in the kingdom of God; others will be poor (see Luke 12:21, 33). Some will be given true riches; others will not (see Luke 16:11). Some will be given heavenly treasures of their own; others will not (see Luke 16:12). Some will reign and rule with Christ; others will not (see Rev. 3:21).

A careful study of these passages reveals one common denominator. Privilege in the kingdom of God is determined by one’s faithfulness in this life.” (2)

Several points come from Stanley’s observations:

  1. Some believers will be very rich in God’s kingdom and others will be comparably poor. (Although even the poorest in God’s Kingdom would be better off than anything they might imagine in their Earthly life.) “ ‘This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.’”  (Luke 12:21, NIV) “ ‘Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.’ ” (Luke 12:33, NIV)
  2.  Some believers will be given true riches because they have demonstrated that they were responsible for all that God gave them when they lived out their lives. “ ‘So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?’ ” (Luke 16:11, NIV)
  3. Some will be given “heavenly treasures” to own themselves and others will not. “ ‘And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?’ ” (Luke 16:12, NIV)

Given God’s perspective and his revealed reward plan for each of us, it’s pretty plain to see that it’s in our best interest to seek genuinely from the heart to honor God in all the ways of our lives. He will reward those that truly seek to place him first in this life. The good news is that it’s never to late to start.

Perhaps you surrendered your life to Christ many years ago and have since not lived a life that you know best honors the Lord. If that’s the case, then come to the Lord in prayer, confess, and then renew your heart. Purpose to live out your life in a way that best reflects God in all that you think, do, and say each and every day.

Do this with the full knowledge that you and I must ask God for the strength to live out such a life; we cannot do so of our own strength and willpower alone. There’s a strong connection between our ability to live out Godly lives and the amount of focus we expend on Christ. The more we focus and invest our lives in Christ, the easier it becomes for Christ to have control over every part of our lives.

Keep in mind that in all of this your salvation is non-negotiable. You and I worship a God that keeps his promises no matter what.

“The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.” (Psalm 145:13b, NIV)

His grace and love are beyond anything we could possibly comprehend. The Apostle Paul reminded us:

“if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13, NIV)

When it comes to our conduct in this life, our eye should be on the eternal rewards that God has for each of us. While God will evaluate each of our lives, we can be confident that he will do so without bias or poor judgment. He will do so with all the facts including our heart motivation. He is a just God and the evaluation will be based upon his standards, and done on an individual basis.  He will not compare my life choices to someone else’s, rather he will judge my heart, my actions, my thoughts as my own. In the end God wants to reward us!

If this idea of rewards is new to you or resonates in some way and you want to move forward with your best effort, then the best time to start engaging is now!

As soon as you’re done reading this devotion, take a moment and pray, commit yourself to a life that seeks the rewards God has for each of us. These rewards are eternal and everlasting in nature; make the conscience choice to stop looking to other people for significance in this life, instead seek to be significant in Christ’s eyes and in so doing build a life that allows you to store up your treasures in heaven.

 

 

 

 

===== Notes ======

(1) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/05/20/heres-how-much-your-high-school-grades-predict-how-much-you-make-today/?utm_term=.7bfa1648e914

(2) Charles F. Stanley, Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? (Nashville: Oliver-Nelson Books, 1990).

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2017

 

A Life Empowered

The hike was her first. At age six she needed an occasional hand from her Mom, Dad, or Grandpa to climb over some of the larger rocks and logs that were sometimes encountered on the steep mountain trail.

After an hour of walking on the tree covered trail the path finally flattened out. Tall Ponderosa pines whispered above the four hikers as gentle breezes found their way through the tree’s lofty branches. After a few more minutes of  hiking, the crude trail opened up to a beautiful lush green meadow. Nearby, a small wooden bridge leading to the meadow traversed a little creek that gently gurgled along its banks. Tiny yellow and white flowers dotted the the lush mountain oasis, tended by numerous songbirds, which added to the cheery scene as they sang and chirped while darting with flashes of bright colors through the gently swaying grasses.

This regal meadow scene was surrounded by soaring snow covered mountain peaks that rose like rocky edifices from the earth. The sound of cows mooing in the distance were complemented by the lazy clanging of their cow bells. Evidently a herd of cattle spent the better part of their Summer grazing upon the rich supply of food and plentiful mountain water.

Grandpa leisurely walked the way across the meadow with his granddaughter. Mom and Dad sat near the little bridge on the skirt of the meadow under the shimmering Aspens, taking pictures and watching as the two started their walk across the meadow.

About midway the into their walk, the cows who had been grazing on the other side of the meadow, spotted the two hikers. Being curious creatures, they gradually moved as one group towards them. The little girl watched with fascination as the cows steadily closed their distance.

In time the two were surrounded by fifty to sixty cows, each wearing a copper colored cow bell that clanged with each step they made. Close up the animals were huge! The little girl appeared dwarfed by their presence.

Her Grandpa paused and took her picture with the cows while the animals milled about in the background. The cows kept their distance while looking curiously at them. Soon the little girl pulled out a small yellow disposable camera from her pink backpack, something her parents had given her prior to her big hike to the meadow. She evidently wanted a picture of her Grandpa, ideally just like the one he took of her. He dutifully followed her every direction so that she could get him framed in the perfect picture with the cows as the backdrop.

All the while this was going on, she never once was afraid or concerned about the presence of these enormous animals. Occasionally an independent minded cow would get a little to friendly and try to approach them; but Grandpa was used to being around such animals and would shoo them back a bit.

In her mind why should she be concerned? She was with Grandpa, a man that loved her, who would never place her in harms way. He seemed to understand all the things in the world that she didn’t know about. Certainly he knew they were safe standing on the dirt path in the middle of a mountain meadow surrounded by a bunch of curious cattle. The experience was one she would always remember.

As believers and followers of Jesus Christ, we too should have a similar degree of confidence in our Heavenly Father, just as this young girl did of her grandfather.

For believers our encounters with God are through the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, the one whom Jesus promised would come after his death and resurrection. In our case, we most likely met the Holy Spirit during the period leading up to our saying “yes” to Jesus; for it’s the job of the Holy Spirit to bring about conviction of heart that leads to conversion (John 16:8-11). Conversion is the human’s turning to God. It consists of a negative and a positive element: repentance, that is, abandonment of sin; and faith, that is, acceptance of the promises and the work of Christ.”(1)

From the moment of our decision to follow Christ in faith, we are assured of our place in Heaven. Like Jesus, and because of His work on the cross, we too have overcome death. With death behind us it’s now possible for us to look forward to life in the future with confidence and peace. Charles Wesley once wrote the following lyrics in a hymn that captured this powerful realization of Christ’s work for us. In part he wrote: “Where, O Death is now thy sting?…”(2) Indeed we have much to celebrate when it comes to our decision to respond to the entreating’s of the Holy Spirit and to place our faith in Christ.

Thankfully the Holy Spirit doesn’t simply leave us hanging after we’ve made the choice to follow Christ, He remains steadfast in our lives each and every moment. Jesus told his disciples that through the Holy Spirit they would be enabled and empowered to do works far greater than even He had done in his earthly ministry (John 14:12).

That same empowerment extends to you and I today, as the Holy Spirit is present within each believer. He empowers us to do things that would normally be beyond our natural capabilities and strengths. Yet when we look back through the milestones of God sized assignments in our lives, we can’t help but to acknowledge that our apparent accomplishments ultimately found their roots in God’s empowerment via the Holy Spirit.

One need only to look at the lives of the disciples to see this to be true. In the scriptures we are presented with twelve individuals that accomplished incredible feats in just a few years after their encounter and choice to follow Jesus. They could not have by their own strength managed to have shared the gospel and carried the message of Jesus such that over two thousand years later, the gospel and good news of Christ is still changing millions of lives. Their success was not a function of their own innate abilities, rather it’s origins were from the Holy Spirit. These individuals were associated with the initial spread of the Gospel throughout the entire Roman empire! (3)

Scriptures record that thousands of Jews placed their faith in Jesus (Acts 21:20), and these were not ordinary Jews, they were committed Jews sold out to their own way of life. Luke recorded that these were people that were “zealous for the law.” This would have meant that a choice to follow Jesus was one that likely came with a steep price. Many may have had to give up respected social positions, they were likely rejected by their families and suffered great economic hardships for their choice in following Jesus. Despite the costs they embraced the message of the gospel.

It would seem unlikely that these hardcore steadfast individuals would have given much heed to the message of the gospel were it simply delivered to them by uneducated fishermen, a hated tax collector, and a former Jewish leader (Paul) that abandoned his place in society to follow Christ. Yet they were moved to follow Jesus. Why? Only the Holy Spirit could account for such empowerment. The Bible tells us that many other prominent members of society outside of Jewish circles also believed and placed their faith in Christ (Acts 17:12).

That same Holy Spirit that empowered these normal everyday people is as available to you and I today as it was for the disciples then. I would strongly encourage you to embrace the peace that comes with knowing for certain that death no longer has hold of your life. You need not fear it.

We as believers are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, who is God, and the Bible tells us that God has his best in mind for you and I, and that his best includes God sized assignments that you and I could never accomplish without direct empowerment from the Holy Spirit.

Are you in the midst of a God sized assignment? If so, take a moment and ask God to empower you to accomplish whatever it is that he has set before you. Trust him to give you the abilities and resources to accomplish that which he has desires you to complete.

It is the desire of Jesus that we live our lives and live them to the full (John 10:10) We can only do that if we are in total reliance upon the Holy Spirit to empower us and that we genuinely believe that the work of Christ was sufficient to overcome the “sting” of death.

 

 

 

 

**************************************Notes************************

(1) Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 795.

(2) Logos Hymnal, 1st edition. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995).

(3) G. W. Bromiley and J. Orr, “Christianity,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 661.

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 FullLifeWord

 

Peace

Work was only hours away…the little numbers on my bedside digital clock pierced through the darkness, the electronic digits advanced without mercy. A glowing dot on the clock face pulsed with each passing second like a symphony conductor keeping the tempo of time.

As I tried to fall asleep, I could hear the jangle of night sounds emanating from outside of my bedroom window. Periodically cars would drive by, their presence betrayed by the ever-increasing reverberation of their tires as they drew near and then as they faded into the cool night air after the sound of their tires reached its zenith just outside of my bedroom window.

At times these sounds would be supplemented by the “clip-pity-clop” sound of the occasional late night skateboarder as they rolled by on the nearby sidewalk. I thought to myself; Why are so many people awake!? “Doesn’t anyone in this town sleep?

I asked myself; “Where are all these people going and what are they doing awake in the middle of the night? Why aren’t they home asleep?

I considered the possibility for a moment that perhaps they were part of a throng of sleepless zombies; people like me who found sleep elusive.

I wondered if I would soon be joining them.

At long last, after several hours of wakefulness, my eyes became heavy. I sensed I was soon to be enveloped in a blanket of sleep. I felt an inner joy as I became aware of my gradual release from the conscience world. My soft pillow and I merged to become one as I drifted towards peaceful bliss.

Suddenly I was startled awake and wrenched into reality by the raucous barking of my neighbor’s dog!

I was wide awake again.

Oh the frustration!

With all this time on my hands, I found myself thinking once again about work, finances, and waxing philosophically about life.

It seems we have so much to worry about.

The world outside was one filled with ongoing wars and threats of more wars, unstable economics, college bills, debts, health issues, social upheaval, infringements on our ability to speak and worship freely, and the battle of so many contrary ideas that have simply been caught and brought without any real discussion.

Yet there must be a way to find rest in such times. I had to find a way, because I’d come to the realization during my sleepless state of mind that the turmoil of our times were not likely to lessen.

It would be sometime later, while investigating the topics of peace and rest, I found that I wasn’t alone in my sleepless misery on that particular night. After studying the matter I came to the conclusion, at least in the United States, that we’re a driven, over stimulated, and stressed out bunch of people.

In 2016, the American Psychological Association’s annual survey of stress in America had its first statistically significant year-over-year increase in stress levels since it launched its stress measure a decade ago.(11)

In 2015, we were more likely to have experienced extreme stress than in prior times. (a rating of 8,9 or 10 on a 10-point scale). Twenty-four percent of adults reported extreme stress levels, compared to 18 percent in 2014. This represented the highest percentage reporting of extreme stress since 2010. (2)

How are we as a people generally coping with all of this stress?

As you might surmise…we’re not doing a very good job.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 23.5 million people are treated each year for abuse of drugs and alcohol in the United States.(10) Our coping through such means costs our nation dearly at many levels. Translated into dollars, it’s been estimated that our poor coping behavior costs our nation $700 billion dollars a year.(9)

How are we to manage? Where do we turn for a lasting solution? Are we alone in this walk or has someone already shown us a way to experience peace within a world of sustained extreme stress?

It turns out that the problems of extreme stress and the search for peace are not new ones.

Throughout history people have struggled with the pressures of economics, security, and threats of war. Such was the case for ancient Judah.

Between 601-604 BC the Southern Kingdom of Judah found itself in the unenviable position of being under the thumb of King Nebuchadnezzar, the absolute ruler of the Babylonian Empire.

In return for not being squashed and destroyed by the Babylonians, the king exacted a yearly tax, or tribute from his subject states. Such was the case for Judah. If a state failed to pay-up on it’s yearly obligation it was seen as an act of rebellion, and he would send his armies to deal with the recalcitrant country.

During this time the Egyptians and Babylons had been constantly at odds. Judah was often caught in the middle of their power struggles. In 601 BC the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco prevented Nebuchadnezzar from invading Egypt. In due course the leaders in Judah perceived that the Egyptians would ultimately prevail and they made a bet siding with Neco and chose to stop paying its tribute to Nebuchadnezzar.

Things didn’t turn out the way they planned and Nebuchadnezzar didn’t take the news of Judah’s lack of tribute very well. He responded by laying siege to Jerusalem (598-597 BC). When it was over, the Babylonians plundered Jerusalem taking the temple treasures and forcibly deporting many of the Jewish leaders relocating them to Babylon. These were tense, tough times for the people and families that lived in Judah.

Fortunately for most of the population, Nebuchadnezzar allowed them to remain in their homes. The city was basically left intact under an appointed governor by the name of Zedekiah. During this time the people of Judah were under tremendous pressure, living in a volatile place with a great deal of uncertainty and stress.

In times past, when the Kingdom had been under King Solomon, there had been security and certainty. One could plan their future with some degree of confidence. God had blessed Solomon and the people benefited from the resulting peace. But that was then, now under Zedekiah they found themselves in very uncertain times.

Zedekiah didn’t remain faithful or grateful to King Nebuchadnezzar for very long. Things went sour and in 587 B.C. Zedekiah decided to spawn yet another rebellion against the very Babylonian King that had appointed him as governor. Once again, Judah’s faulty decision making was inspired by the Egyptians as they advanced against Babylon, this time under Psammeticus II.

Again Judah bet wrong. The failure of Judah to pay its tribute the second time pushed Nebuchadnezzar over the edge. In 586 B.C. he responded by once again laying siege to Jerusalem. This time he didn’t stop at just laying seige to the city, he sacked it after it surrendered, destroying the entire city and it’s fortifications. He burned the temple, palaces, homes, and deported large portions of the remaining population back to Babylon. (12)

The years rolled by and the Judean captives that had been deported to Babylon had adapted to a relatively secure life, yet it was not a real life of peace for many. They still remembered their past and what it had been like living in Jerusalem and worshiping in the temple that had been the glorious center in the City of David. Their lament over this spiritual separation from their past was evident and expressed from the heart in Psalm 137:1.

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”

By 539 B.C. the Persians under Cyrus had come to power and invaded Babylon under the banner of liberator. In keeping with this theme, Cyrus ordered the restoration of ancient temples while suggesting the possibility of the return of dispersed peoples to their homelands.

In 538 B.C. Cyrus did just that, by issuing an edict allowing the Jews to return to Judah and ordering that the Jerusalem temple be rebuilt. He even contributed some of the funding for this project from his own treasury. (Ezra 1:2-4;6:3-5;2 Chr 36:22-23) In general, most historians painted Cyrus as much more tolerant towards peoples in his empire than his predecessors the Assyrians and Babylonians.

A fellow by the name of Sheshbazzar, who was of a royal Davidic lineage, was appointed governor and entrusted by Cyrus to the return of the silver vessels taken originally from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar. Under his leadership the foundations of the new temple were laid.

By 530 B.C. Cyrus had been killed while fighting in the northeastern areas of his kingdom. His son Cambyses took over briefly before dying in 522 B.C. . His death left Persia in a state of chaos for two years while rivals fought for control of the throne.

Darius I ultimately emerged as the winner and took his place on the throne to rule the Persian Empire.

It was shortly after this time that the Prophet Haggai preached in Jerusalem, during the second year of Darius’s rule, encouraging the Jews to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. It was believed that Haggai was an older man by this time and may have remembered Solomon’s Temple in better times. (Hag 2:3) Haggai shared the following to the people:

“‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”” (Haggai 2:9, NIV)

In the aftermath of war, invasion, deportation, hardships that one could only imagine, the people of Judah simply wanted and desired peace. Through Haggai God promised that He alone would grant such peace.

Many theologians believe that Haggai, in speaking of the peace that God promised, was pointing to the future glory of Christ and the eternal peace that Christ would ultimately bring.

Years later, the apostle Paul wrote of peace in his prayer at the conclusion of his letter to the church at Thessolonica:

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16, NIV)

God is the author and giver of peace and the one solely capable of giving us real peace. Our God always wants to give us good things, and one of the good things He desires to give us is genuine peace.

Much like the times of Judah, we too face turmoil and unrest. Threats from powers outside of our country and division within our country. We are in a state of constant agitation which makes peace, and subsequent rest problematic.

At this point it might help if we try to better describe what peace actually is and what the these passages tell us about peace.

Much of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the Hebrew word used most commonly for peace was the word “shalom,” which has the sense of “health”, “wholeness”, and “salvation.” It’s not simply the absence of strife, which is the most common view of peace that we hold today.

When the Lord told Haggai that he was going to “grant peace” to the people that had came to restore the temple, he used the Hebrew “Shalom.” He was speaking of a deep underlying peace present even in the most difficult of circumstances.

The people that had come back to restore the temple faced a daunting task. After so many years they could not start the restoration of the temple right away because the place had become completely overgrown. Additionally they needed to build shelters and homes for themselves. Add to the whole problem the lack of resources and other logistical challenges, one could see how they might have become very discouraged.

We’re not much different ourselves today. The Evil One never wants us to have peace. Instead he would rather have us to live in a state of perpetual strife and angst. One could make the case that peace and rest go hand-in-hand. Without peace it impossible to rest; and yet rest is what we often find ourselves seeking in order to have peace.

Paul reminded us that when God grants us peace, it’s a peace for “all times” and in “every way.” God’s peace is not a peace that comes and goes. The author of eternal living peace can only be found in Jesus, the ultimate author peace. The scriptures attest to the degree of peace that’s associated with Jesus.

Recall if you will the scene in the Gospel of Luke:

“One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”” (Luke 8:22–25, NIV)

Imagine the scene. Waves were crashing around the the boat, the disciples were panicked believing that they were in imminent danger of sinking. Through it all what did Jesus do?

He slept.

Only a person totally at peace in the midst of a raging storm could possibly sleep under such circumstances. After Jesus calmed the storm with divine power, He asked them; “Where is your faith”? He did so because he was reminding them of how much God cares for them and that even in the midst of a raging storm, Jesus’s silence as he slept did not equate to a lack of awareness and love for His disciples. We should take solace in this wonderful example of God’s expression of love. He loves us even in the midst of the torrents of the storms of life, and that love translates as peace in the moment.

The truth is, his love is the only love that can give us the peace that will allow us to rest in the midst of the tensions and stresses and challenges that this life can dish up. Someone once said that “the legacy of Christ is not advice about peace, it is peace.”

During the that night in which I had so much trouble sleeping, I pulled out my Bible. It was during that wakeful evening that the Lord impressed upon me though the scriptures that authentic and lasting peace can only come from Him, and that if one accepts this fundamental propositional truth, then rest will come. And it did and continues to do so for me.

Has life got you down? Are you having trouble finding the peace that seems to so allude so many? If so ,I would like to suggest that you take a moment and look at what Jesus has to offer. The Prince of Peace has enough peace to give you and anyone who desires it, the gift of peace and the deep rest that follows. His peace is a lasting peace, in fact he offers it as a gift to each of us. His peace is an eternal peace.

C.S. Lewis shared that God and peace are completely interwoven, they’re one. In the end he concluded that “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.”

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(1) https://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/
(2) http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/snapshot.aspx
(3) https://www.instapaper.com/read/894555129
(4) http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/september/are-us-christians-really-persecuted.html?start=2
(5) https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/preliminary-semiannual-uniform-crime-report-januaryjune-2016
(6) https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=76
(7) https://studentloanhero.com/featured/effects-of-student-loan-debt-us-economy/
(8) https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikepatton/2016/03/28/u-s-debt-is-heading-toward-20-trillion-where-its-been-where-its-going-and-why/#57a60a197a25
(9) https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics
(10) https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-statistics
(11) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/05/01/stress-negativity-mindfulness/100989170/
(12) Thomas V. Brisco, Holman Bible Atlas, Holman Reference (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998); p158-186

 

 

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