I’m Not My Own

“You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

We are often willing to sacrifice a part of ourselves when our children need us, when our aging parents can no longer care for themselves, when a spouse or significant other is hurting, and needs our encouragement and support. In those times, we make the choice to humble ourselves, and serve those whom we love. Our actions are rooted from our heart, from the abundance of our love.

Jesus knows what true sacrificial love means. He expressed as much when he gave His life for me and for you. Yet he fulfilled his promise and took up His life three days later, and in so doing, brought victory over death for each of us.

There is no level of sacrifice I could personally make, that would allow me to repay Jesus for His sacrifice for me. In that way, I have come to realize that I am not my own. That He took my place, so that I would never worry about being separated from the One who is Light, from the One who has given me eternal life. For you see, he redeemed my life for a price, even before I knew Him.

I choose to live my life as one long grateful response for His sacrificial gift. In that way, I am not my own, but I am His. For I was brought for a price.

 

 

 

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2015

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

Differing Measures

One of the largest and most powerful warships of its day, and the pride of Gustav II Adolf, the King of Sweden, was launched on August 10, 1628. The “Vasa, named after the ruling Vasa Dynasty, boasted an array of 64 bronze cannons, was crewed by 150 sailors and capable of carrying some 300 soldiers. She was in excess of 200 feet in length with a displacement of over 1,400 tons. With over 13,000 square feet of sail, this 17th century vessel was a force to be reckoned with.

An excited public watched and celebrated along the shores of Strömmen, as the great ship prepared to depart on its maiden voyage. On that particular Sunday morning, the Vasa hosted over a hundred crew members, along with family and guests, which were allowed to join the ship for the first leg of its passage through the Archipelago.

Incredibly, after having been under construction for over two years, the maiden voyage lasted only twenty minutes. The Vasa traveled less than one mile before a gust of wind unexpectedly caused the ship to heel over to its port side. The resulting massive flooding, as water rushed into the open lower gun ports, sank the ship within minutes, taking with it the lives of thirty people.

Subsequent inquests spread the blame for the untimely sinking amid a variety of people and causes, but no one cause or person was identified as the primary reason for the ship’s demise; the inquest concluded that the ship was “inherently unstable.” The actual mechanical reasons that caused the instability of the Vasa would remain entombed with the ship for nearly four hundred years.

In 1961, the remains of the incredibly well preserved Vasa were located and raised, and over a period of several years the ship was restored and ultimately placed in a Swedish museum for others to view and study. Archeologists studying the Vasa identified several factors that might have contributed to the ship’s sinking; including a lack of adequate ballast and a top heavy design. But these factors by themselves did not possess sufficient explanatory power to fully explain Vasa’s hasty demise.

In June of 2012, a major four year study was completed in the hopes of identifying the source of her instability. The study was headed by Vasa Museum’s director of research Fred Hocker. The project set out to document and measure all the timbers used in the construction of the Vasa. Doing so required the team to map some 80,000 separate points on the ship, using advanced digital 3D technology.

To their surprise, after analyzing the data, the project team learned that the ship was actually built in an asymmetric shape.

The ship was built lopsided.

In this case, there were more ship building materials on the port side of the ship, than on the starboard side. If this had been unknown at the time of construction, then the ship would indeed have been highly unstable, and likely to roll to the left side when faced with a strong wind or rough ocean.

But how did such an error, which resulted in this unstable shape, insert itself into the final construction work at the shipyard?

As part of their examination of the Vasa, Hocker and his team had earlier discovered within the ship, four rulers left behind by the original shipbuilders. The significance of this piece of historical evidence had not been fully understood at the time of its discovery. But that would change.

Upon careful examination, it turned out that these rulers were based on two different measurement standards.

The team also determined from historical records that the carpenters who built the Vasa, originated from both Holland and Sweden.

Two of the rulers were in Swedish feet and the others were in Amsterdam feet, which were slightly different in lengths. As the ship was being built, it was speculated that each carpenter used their own measuring standard to cut the timbers used for the ship.

Because no single objective measuring standard was used, the resulting vessel that was built came out lopsided and therefore highly unstable. This final part of the puzzle provided the last explanatory piece of data to close out the mystery behind the mighty Vasa’s demise.

Scientists concluded that the lopsided ship tended to naturally lean to its port side, because it was built based upon two different definitions of how long a “foot” was, and when the gust of wind arose on that fateful day, the ship simply keeled over to its naturally heavy side. Because the ship was not balanced properly, and was considered top heavy, when the water flooded in, it was not able to recover and return to an upright position. Instead it remained on its side and immediately sank.

Thankfully, in today’s world, we generally have agreement on objective standards to determine how long a foot is, how much volume a gallon actually contains, or how hot or cold something might be. Having objective standards allows us to operate in a predictable and safe manner.

But are such objective standards limited only to physical attributes in our lives? What about behavioral standards of conduct that govern how we relate to God and one another? Are there objective standards available for us to live our lives by? If so, what are the consequences of attempting to live outside of God’s ideal for us?

Jesus was once asked by a religious official, with respect to the laws and commandments they lived by, which one was the most important? Jesus responded by citing not one, but two commandments; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30–31)

In his response Jesus looked past the legalistic and religious intent of this official, and responded by summarizing all of the commandments into two simple objective relationship truths.

In essence, these principles state that the most important relationship we could ever have is the one we have with God. We need to give our all to God, our heart, Soul, and Mind. If that relationship is healthy, we will have the foundation to carry out the second great relationship truth, and that would be to love those around us and to love ourselves. Choosing to adopt God’s objective truths about relationships permits us to live our lives fully, as Jesus intended us to do. (John 10:10)

Of course, when we as a people choose to reject God’s truth claims, and substitute our own personal truths, our relationships in this life inevitably become unstable. In the end, by choosing to use a multitude of differing “measurement rulers” to live by, we are left with no objective standard to assess what is healthy in our relationships, no basis in which to grapple with real world issues. Instead we are armed only with a shifting social framework, dictated by the winds of an ever changing public opinion. Frequently God’s “Truth” with a capital “T” becomes lost in the myriad of individual truths, with a lowercase “t.”

No one has to be a sociological expert to recognize that we live in an incredibly unstable society. For the most part, much of our society has accepted, as normative, a variety of unhealthily relationship models that lie outside of what God desired for his creation. Additionally, our news is filled with stories of theft, corruption and embezzlement, along with a seemingly endless list of violent acts that we as humans seem so easily and capable of perpetrating upon one another.

Yet despite all of our poor choices, Jesus still loves us. (Romans 5:8) He knows that true love can only be true, if the object of his love responds willingly and voluntarily to Him and his offer of an eternal relationship. With that relationship, and obedience to God’s objective truths, come peace and purpose in this life. (Proverbs 3:1-2)

God will never force his plan for our eternal salvation upon us. It becomes our choice entirely as to how we will choose to respond to His love for us. Our behaviors are ultimately a product of our choices. Our choices a product of what we believe is true.

In this life we have the choice to either humble ourselves and willingly trust and obey God’s objective truths, or to trade these truths for our own contrived, and often self-serving concepts of truth with predictable results. (John 3:19)

How do I want to live and build my life? Do I want a life built like the Vasa was built, with many differing standards, or will I anchor my life securely in God, resting upon His set of objective principles as revealed in the Scriptures?

Picking The Teams

It might have been September or early October, I can’t remember for sure, far too many years have transpired by now for me to be exactly confident of the date, I just know it was the Fall shortly after school started and I was in the fourth grade.

It was hot, the fields around the elementary school were dry, the grass on the hills devoid of any sign of green, save that of a few hearty Oak trees. I squinted as the sun beat down on me and my twenty or so classmates as we stood noisily in a row out on the blacktop. An occasional flash of yellow could be seen as the wings of a grasshopper would momentarily appear when the shadow of a child frightened it into flight.

Two boys, the most athletic of the class, were standing in front of us, carefully evaluating the pool of potential kickball teammates.

I hated this part.

The part where one after the other the kids would all be picked. Each Team Captain would take turns, back and forth, pointing to one of us to join their team. Soon there would only be one left.

Mostly that was me.

Just when I thought the experience would be over, the real dread and humiliation phase would begin. The conversation would typically shift from picking teammates to a negotiation between captains as to which team would be stuck with me.

This was worse than simply being last. I knew I was nothing but the kid with the crooked teeth, kinda gangly, and holding no appreciable athletic skills. I wasn’t particularly very good at anything, even academics. Eventually the teacher, against the visible and at times audible protest of one or both of the team captains, would put me on one of the teams.

Years later, I learned that unlike my elementary school team captains, when God is the team captain, He doesn’t  look at abilities or talents (Something that comes from God anyway), or how one outwardly appears. Rather he looks with great compassion at the heart.

Many examples of God’s choices are illustrated in the Scriptures. By any standards other than God’s, none of these individuals would have made the cut given the assignment that God had in mind for them. In one instance, God chose a young boy that was nothing but a simple shepherd, yet he grew up to become a great king (2 Samuel 2:1-7), God also chose a guy named Moses, who never led anything but sheep in a pasture, to lead God’s people out of captivity from the Egyptians. (Exodus 3) Later, God trusted a prostitute by the name of Rahab, who probably spent a lifetime never trusting anyone, to protect Joshua and his men from certain capture. (Joshua 2)

God continued to choose in like manner, when he came to us as Jesus. He chose lowly fishermen (Matthew 4:18-20), a disrespected tax collector (Mark 2:14), and others that society generally held in very low regard to serve as His early disciples. These twelve and ultimately countless others would serve as the engine that propelled the gospel of Christ into virtually every part of the world; the message of God’s gift of eternal life ultimately bridged virtually all social and economic barriers.

When I was sixteen, I finally figured out that I didn’t need to worry about abilities, talents, or good looks when it came to having a relationship with Jesus. In fact, there was nothing I had in my life that I could offer to God except myself and a willing heart.

I realized then, that Jesus had already picked me to join His team, He had all along. He had been knocking on the door of my heart (Revelation 3:20) and asking me to open that door and allow Him to enter my life. I had simply not opened the door. One evening I made the intentional choice to respond to His gentle knock, his open arms, and accepted the fullest expression of His love for me through his death and resurrection.

That evening, I prayed and surrendered my life to Jesus. I trusted that the work He did on the cross was sufficient, and in that moment I officially joined His team.

I’ve never looked back. It was and remains the best decision I’ve ever made. My eyes became open to the world in ways I had never thought possible. It was very much like having transitioned from seeing the world in black and white, to seeing the world from God’s perspective, in full color with a greater understanding. God has since done things in my life that I could never have done on my own; He has blessed me in more ways than I could count. And best of all, I have the assurance that I will get to experience Him for eternity!! Death and the fear of death no longer have mastery over my life.

Jesus said that he came to give us life and help us live it to the full. This is how God intended us to live our lives out.(John 10:10) Sure we’ll still face difficulties, troubles, heartaches, and all that comes with life, Jesus told us we would, but we’ll never be alone for He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

In the final analysis, I came to realize that I was picked by an eternal team captain that leads His team to victory through his boundless love, compassion, and sacrifice of self.