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)

 

The Evidence of Intimacy

“Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.’ ” – (John 11:14-15)

I first met Tony, a tall handsome man with a greying beard and the air of a wizard about him, through a small group bible study I had been leading. Our meeting ultimately led to a friendship in which we not only had the opportunity to worship together in the same church, but to also work together professionally in the same company.

Tony’s friendship and mentorship became a very influential and guiding force in my life. His wisdom, integrity, humor, and deep walk with the Lord all conspired to help me grow at many levels.

Working for the same company also afforded us the daily opportunity to get our exercise in through lunchtime walks where we would converse over all manner of topics. Over the years he would regularly challenge me both professionally and spiritually. He often shared with me the importance of living life within the framework of biblical truth with Jesus as the principle foundation.

I will always remember that fateful day when Tony shared with me during one of our walks that he had been diagnosed with cancer. He was so matter of fact about it, like it was just another topic on our daily walking agenda. From the outset he completely trusted in the Lord for whatever the outcome might be.

Over the next two years he was subjected to all sorts of treatments and surgeries. I had occasion to visit him in his home and in the hospital at times. Those visits often left me saddened as I watched the body of this once great and wise friend wasting away as the disease progressed on its relentless course.

Yet Tony’s faith in our Lord remained.

All during that period many, myself included, prayed fervently for a healing miracle from God. But none would be forthcoming.

I received the news of his passing while at work. I left my office and walked a short distance along a small trail that led to a picnic area on a lawn covered hill near our office. The area offered an overlook of the hills that surrounded the valley we were situated in.

I prayed through the tears and sorrow that befell my heart on that day. It seemed so final, yet I knew that he was in Heaven, in a far better place, but I also wondered why God had not healed such a humble and faithful servant.

I remembered in his book “If Ye Shall Ask,” that Oswald Chambers shared that God always answers our prayers. Even Jesus said; “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” ( Matthew 21:22 (ESV) )

Both were bold statements!

In the months that followed, I was in somewhat of a spiritual struggle, contrasting the words of Jesus against the reality of Tony’s death. On the surface it seemed as though God had not answered our prayers for healing.

In the end, I found myself faced with one of two possibilities:

  1. Prayer was not real, it’s just a nice vehicle to help us through some difficult times.
  2. Prayer is real and God always hears and answers our prayers.

I concluded that if one presumed that prayers were simply feel good actions on our part that served no greater purpose, then one must also conclude that God was not real, and by inference, the scriptures were not a reliable source for understanding God and his plans for humanity.

On the other hand, if God is real, and if I can trust the scriptures as reliable, then I must also presume that God’s intent in his answers must serve a higher purpose, perhaps even a purpose for which I may not fully grasp.

I worked through both possible outcomes and concluded that the evidence overwhelming supported the reality of God. Furthermore, I also knew that the reliability of the scriptures stood on very solid ground. And to be sure, I also appreciated from firsthand experience in my own life, that the God who loved me first is a personal being that desires only to give me His very best in this life.

For a time the topic of prayer and the experience I had with Tony’s death was never far from my mind. One evening as I was reading the scriptures, I came across a story about a guy named Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus.

It seemed that Lazarus was also the brother of Martha and Mary, two sisters whom Jesus had befriended during times when he and his disciples stayed in Bethany, a small village on the Eastern slope of the Mount of Olives in Judea. The village itself was about a mile and half East of Jerusalem. Even today the town is called el-Azariyeh (the place of Lazarus) by its resident Arab population.

Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem at the time he heard that his friend Lazarus had become very ill. The scriptures record that upon hearing of his friend’s condition, Jesus elected to stay in Jerusalem for an additional two days. At the end of this stay he told his disciples that Lazarus had died. But then he said; “...and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” When I read this statement I thought to myself; “what puzzling thing to say to his disciples.”

With my interest peaked, I continued to read and learned that when Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, it was revealed that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. (John 11:17) In other words, Lazarus likely died the same day that Jesus was told of his illness by the messengers sent by his sisters Martha and Mary. (John 11:3) Yet Jesus delayed his return and did not heal his friend from what would ultimately become a terminal illness.

When Jesus arrived at their home it was Martha who initially came out to meet him. Of the two sisters, Martha had a history of being the anxious one. We know this from what Luke recorded in the scriptures.

Luke noted an earlier incident when Jesus was visiting in Bethany with his disciples; evidently Martha was busy preparing and serving food while Mary was sitting around and listening to Jesus teach. (Luke 10:38-42) Martha complained to Jesus about this apparent inequity. Jesus responded by sharing that Martha should not be so troubled and should spend more time doing likewise.

After Lazarus’s death, when Martha saw Jesus arrive, her first words where not words of greetings, but words of underlying disappointment and frustration with Jesus. She told Jesus that “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Clearly she understood and believed that Jesus had the ability to heal others and knew that her brother’s death was preventable. In her defense, Martha did ultimately conclude that Jesus could bring her brother back from the dead, and Jesus confirmed that with her. But in the moment she thought that he was speaking of the end times when all believers will be resurrected in their new bodies. After affirming her belief in Jesus as the expected Messiah she alerted her sister Mary of Jesus’s arrival.

Jesus spoke with Mary and together they all walked to where the tomb containing the body of Lazarus was located. Jesus requested that the stone seal be removed and the tomb be opened. Martha, the ever anxious one, still did not understand fully what was about to happen, instead she was worried about the terrible odor that would come from the tomb should it be opened after four days. (John 11:39)

Nonetheless they did remove the stone seal. Jesus looked up and prayed to his Father and then yelled in a loud voice; “Lazarus, come out!” Immediately Lazarus came out from the tomb, with his hands and feet still wrapped in strips of linen. Jesus told those around him to “take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Many of the Jews that had come to visit Mary and Martha, and to mourn with them saw what had happened and immediately placed their faith in Jesus. They realized for the first time that He was much more than a teacher, but he was their expected Messiah!

Scriptures would later record that it would be these same Jews and others that would greet Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on that fateful Passover week prior to his crucifixion. (John 12:17) The Jews who had witnessed Lazarus being raised from the dead not only became believers, but they also spread the word to many others.

As I finished reading about this incident, I pondered how the outcome might have been different had Jesus simply healed Lazarus and not allowed him to have died. Many Jews would not have known of Christ as their Messiah. The story of Lazarus would not have been recorded in the scriptures to give us further evidence of Christ’s power over death, and the very town where the event took place would not today bear the name of Lazarus some two thousand years hence, still testifying to the power over death that Jesus demonstrated, even before his own crucifixion and resurrection that was yet to come.

I concluded that sometimes when our prayers don’t seem to be answered, that God has in fact answered them already, but His answer speaks to a higher purpose for which I may not fully appreciate or even understand in the moment. Therein lies an element of my trust and continued faith in His promises to me.

The prophet Isaiah said; “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

In the end Chambers reminded me that I must always keep in mind that prayer is to bring glory to God, and that what appears to be silence is in fact the first sign of His intimacy.

 

Mr. Fish

“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10 (NIV))

When our kids were young we would take them to the local County Fair which arrived for about two weeks each Summer.  They loved the fair and would enjoy the rides, the food, and all the fun activities.

Many of the fair booths would offer prizes to kids for succeeding in certain events, such as tossing a small ball into a hoop, or coins into bottles and bowls.

On one occasion, my son won a goldfish.

We had little hope that this “Fair fish” would survive for long, it looked rather skinny and listed to one side. Nonetheless, our daughter set out with great determination to ensure that her little brother’s fish would survive. We started by locating a large fishbowl that had been purchased at a garage sale some years before. After a trip to the pet store, we had an inexpensive air pump, fish food pellets, and some water conditioner in hand.

For the first week or so our Fair fish seemed to remain somewhat on the fence about survival, but then it suddenly seemed to take to its new home. Each morning he got a few pellets of food and he continued to thrive. In time he matured into a large handsome and very bright orange fish.

Days became weeks, months passed and then years.  Our Fair fish is now over seven years old and is as healthy as ever. Somehow over the years I became his de facto caretaker. Mr. Fish resides in our kitchen on the counter, his bowl only a few feet from our coffee pot.

Each morning as I pour my first cup of java, Mr. Fish slurps the top of the water in his bowl loudly and splashes his tail to remind me that it’s also mealtime for him. I obligingly drop in several pellets of food, which he hungrily devours. He spends the rest of his day poking around his bowl looking for anything that he may have been missed in the morning.

Periodically his bowl needed to be changed with fresh clean water. This used to be a process whereby I would chase the poor guy around the bowl with a fish net, and then transfer him with a plop into a  small temporary fish bowl (Actually a small plastic food storage container) until I finished cleaning his bowl.

Over the years however, this entire process became much less traumatic. In time there developed this unspoken trust, that when I needed to clean his bowl, all I needed to do was to gently cradle Mr. Fish in my hand, lift him out of his bowl, and place him in his little container until the cleaning was done. Once his home was cleaned and ready to occupy again, I would do the reverse and put him back into his bowl.

During this transfer activity, Mr. Fish remains extraordinary still and at peace as I make the quick, but smooth transfer from one environment to the other. Any normal fish would have every reason to be frantic, because absent the environment of his water, he is totally helpless. He can’t breathe, he can’t swim about, and it’s all about trusting that I’m not going to harm him in the process while I clean his home so that he remains healthy and strong.

One morning as I was having my coffee and watching Mr. Fish I found myself thinking about matters of trust and how rare real trust actually is.

Life for you and I offers many of its own challenges. We have every reason to find little trust in anything or anyone. Our news is filled daily with horrible stories of people taking advantage of one another.

Even as I look to the Bible I saw that one of Jesus’ closest and trusted disciples, Judas, traded him in for the equivalent of about six months’ pay.

What exactly is “trust” anyway?

In the context of relationships, the word trust means to have complete certainty when it comes to the character, ability, strength or the truthfulness of an individual. The reality is, no matter how well meaning, there’s no human being that we can hold with complete trust. That’s because the Bible tells us that all of humanity simply falls short, (Romans 3:23) we would have to be a perfect being in order to convey perfect and complete trust.

In a world of shifting values and uncertain times, where then do we anchor our trust? Over the years I have found that the only reasonable place to secure complete trust is in Jesus Christ. He has always been and will always be. (Revelation 22:13) The character and integrity of God is unchanging (Hebrews 6:17) and can be completely relied upon for all of the ages. Only Jesus possesses the character traits that have stood the test of time. He is the only one who has lived a life that is perfect and untainted by the effects of sin, a condition for which no one is immune. (Matthew 5:48)

Perhaps today as you read this you’re facing issues of trust. I don’t know what specifically they might be, but I do know this; you can trust our Lord for all of time, He is the one constant and certainty that you can reliably anchor to. He is an unmovable rock, the firm cornerstone that you can confidently build your life upon.

If you choose to follow Christ, to lay your complete trust in Him, you will also experience the peace and the joy of a deep inward satisfaction knowing that you are eternally loved by your creator. For the first time you’ll have a lasting purpose and you will know for certain that your presence in this life is not an accident, it was intentional in every respect.

Will this trusting relationship cause conflict or challenges in life to go away? Nope. But it will allow you to prevail with a hidden strength that will carry you through the storms of life with confidence and trust, knowing that the outcome of your life is in God’s loving hands.

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2016

Our Source for Strength, Courage, and Action

“Then David said to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20 (NASB95))

There are those rare moments in life where we must face a seemingly impossible situation that requires us to engage, to be strong and to act in the moment. In those times we must  replace our fear with courage, and our inaction with action. Such was the case of Lenny Skutnick, who on January 13, 1982 was one of the many who witnessed the heroic first responders rescue efforts to save survivors of an airplane crash into the icy Potomac River in Washington, D.C.  During the rescue operations a helicopter tried to rescue a stewardess struggling in the icy river:

“Twice she slipped from the rope dropped to her and fell back into the icy Potomac. Seeing that her strength was gone, Skutnick shed his coat and boots, jumped into the water, and swam thirty yards to her rescue. Questioned by the press afterward about his motivation, Skutnick replied: “I had been there all that time and nobody was getting in the water… It’s something I never thought I would do, but in looking back, I guess I did it because I didn’t think about it. Somebody had to go in the water.”

Solomon, King David’s son, faced his own fears as he begin to grasp the magnitude of the legacy and responsibility of leadership that his Dad was entrusting him with.  King David recognized that he would not be the one to see the vision fulfilled of the temple being built in Jerusalem, rather he chose to entrust the building plans for the temple to his son to complete.

David recognized that God has a role and plan for everyone in this life. His was that of a solider, not a builder. His was that of a visionary and not that of an administrator that would carry out the details of this enormous project. Not only would Solomon be charged with building the temple, but he would one day be King. The legacy of his father would be on his shoulders. David understood this, and he understood the pressures of leadership. But he wanted to give his son the most valuable piece of advice he could, and that was to remind him that God would be with him, that it was through God’s hand that David had been able to successfully navigate and manage the duties of the kingdom that God had charged him with.

Most often we don’t face the life and death moments that Lenny Skutnick faced, nor will any of us likely be handed a kingdom to reign or the plans to a temple to build. Yet as believers we are called upon to live out our lives with courage while depending upon God for the strength to act as his ambassadors in this life.

I have found in my life that real courage is needed to simply face each day that life offers us. Life is hard. It takes courage, strength, and a will to act in order to face the challenges before us. The challenges are different for each of us, but the source of our strength and the power to enable us to act is common to all those that believe and have placed their faith in Christ as their personal savior.

In this life we need not live in fear, even in the face of fearful circumstances. The disciples understood this concept many years after David was gone. They experienced firsthand what it was to have fear, and at the same moment to see how God overcame their fears and enabled them to complete the tasks that God had planned for their lives.

Be  encouraged to trust God in the midst of your circumstances, allow Him to be the source of your courage, strength, and ability to act while trusting Him completely for the outcome.

The Essence of Prayer

“Do not be anxious about anything but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” -Philippians 4:6

 “In the stirring chapter in which Sir Ernest Shackleton tells of the loss of his ship among the ice-floes, he describes an incident that must have set all his readers thinking. In the grip of the ice, the Endurance had been smashed to splinters; and the entire party was out on a frozen sea at the mercy of the pitiless elements. Shackleton came to the conclusion that their best chance of eventually sighting land lay in marching to the opposite extremity of the floe; at any rate, it would give them something to do, and there is always solace in activity. He thereupon ordered his men to reduce their personal baggage to two pounds weight each. For the next few hours every man was busy in sorting out his belongings—the treasures that he had saved from the ship. It was a heart-breaking business. Men stole gloomily and silently away and dug little graves in the snow, to which they committed books, letters, and various knickknacks of sentimental value. And, when the final decisions had to be made, they threw away their little hordes of golden sovereigns and kept the photographs of their sweethearts and wives!” (F.W. Boreham, 2010)

Getting down to the basics in anything can be difficult. Certainly for Shackelton’s expedition team, this was so. In the end, they took with them that which represented the essence of their possessions; photographs of their loved ones. Nothing else was deemed more valuable.

I’ve been on a journey myself, a journey that required me to set aside the distractions of my life and to capture and focus on the essence of prayer.

Over the past several months, I have come to recognize that God’s motivation for the idea behind prayer was driven by His love for His creation. God’s love is an enduring love that knows no boundaries. His love pursues us; it’s a love that transcends all time and space.

 “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. “ (Psalm 139:16)

Prayer became God’s designated means to allow us to respond to His overtures of love. It is through prayer that I am able to communicate and respond to my Creator, to the one who loves me with all of His being. (Psalm 107:15, Psalm 118:1)

Prayer is a gift from God that rises above the circumstances of life. A pastor friend once reminded me that life is hard. At times we seem to face a never ending set of circumstances that makes life hard. Perhaps the circumstances we’re facing are life threatening, or a chronic medical condition that painfully reminds us of its presence each and every day. For others it might be facing economic or relational challenges, or the loss, or imminent loss of a loved one. Whatever our circumstances, the scriptures assure us that we are to engage in prayer, in good times and in bad. (1 Thessalonians 5:18, 1 Timothy 5:5, Daniel 6:10)

The Apostle Paul reminds us that in every situation, no matter how tough it might be, we are to approach God with a heart of thanksgiving. In the face of our circumstances this can be a very tall order. Such a heart is one of continuous gratitude for God’s grace, provision, and ever present love for us. In time, I have learned that the only way to possess such a heart is from the perspective of eternity. What we know is that God’s love for us endures forever. Meaning, that for those who trust in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, His love for us will continue from the present into Heaven for eternity, long after our earthly bodies have turned to dust. Once in Heaven, our finite and comparatively brief earthly life, with all of its troubles and difficulties, will be but a distant thought, a moment in time. It will pale in comparison to the eternal life we are going to experience in Heaven. (Ephesians 5:20, Matthew 1516, Psalm 9:1, Romans 7:25)

Lastly, prayer, at its most basic level is one of confidence in our God. Confidence is expressed in our belief and faith in God for the outcome of our prayers expressed to Him. I’ve learned that at times, God may elect to answer our prayers in an unexpected manner. When He does, it may not feel like the answer we desired or planned for. We should not falter on this point, as I’m convinced that His response is working within a framework that must consider His overall plan for our lives and the lives of others. In this context, our challenge in this earthly life is to trust in His answers, even when we don’t fully comprehend or agree with them in the moment.

It’s possible that the full disclosure of God’s responses to our prayers, and the impact of His responses, may not be fully realized until we are in Heaven. It’s there that we will see the full breadth of his wisdom. For now, we will be blessed in this life for taking the step of trusting fully in God’s wise responses. (Matthew 20:29)

I’ve learned in recent times, the importance in trusting God for the outcomes of my prayers, knowing that His answers to my prayers will ultimately fit into His grander and total plan for my life. (1 John 5:14-15, James 1:6, Matthew 21:22)

The essence of prayer then, is to understand that God loves us with an enduring love, and that He desires communion with us; prayer becomes the vehicle by which this is accomplished. Prayer must be something that is elevated above life circumstances, and when we do pray, we must do so with a heart of thanksgiving. And finally, we need to pray with confidence, trusting in God’s responses, even if we don’t fully grasp the significance of His answer in the moment.

Copyright 2015 FullLifeWord.com

Loneliness Displaced

” ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ ” (Matthew 28:20 )

God never intended human beings to live apart from one another in isolation.

Yet here we are, living in one of the most “connected” societies in human history, yet loneliness is so prevalent. There are many reasons for being lonely. Often the very social networks that connect our society are also the very networks that have been used to isolate us from one another. A frequent means of doing so is through social ostracism, public shame, and cyber bullying. Of course other factors such as the loss of family or someone close, disability, age, disease, poverty, discontent or depression can drive a person into a state of loneliness.

No matter the cause, its a terrible place to be.

In life, friendships grow from shared perspectives, concerns for one another, and a heart willing to take action in times of need.  Lasting friendships are transparent and honest, yet caring and compassionate in its delivery of truth. Friends enjoy time together, even if its not necessarily doing an activity together, sometimes its just being in proximity to one another.

But no matter how deep our human relationships might be, they’re rarely lasting. My  grandmother, in her nineties at the time, once commented to me how grateful she was for her living family as she had outlived her husband and all of her childhood friends. I remember thinking how hard that must have been for her. There was no one left in which to relive shared memories.

Jesus Christ, who loves us (John 3:16) and seeks after us (Rev 3:20) knows about loneliness and the cure for such. He told his disciples shortly before his crucifixion that they would abandon him during his greatest time of need. In that same passage, he also shared that he had overcome the world and that fellowship displaced loneliness because of his relationship with his Heavenly Father (John 16:32-33). Jesus recognized, as my grandmother did, that God is a constant force that can be counted on to push back the creeping shadows of loneliness.

It’s one thing to be alone, but it’s entirely different to be lonely. We can be surrounded by many people and yet experience a deep loneliness in our hearts and souls. I enjoy times of solitude, but I would never desire loneliness.

Responding to Christ’s love for us is often the first step towards overcoming loneliness. Inviting Christ into our lives makes us a new creation (1 Peter 1:3 ). God literally indwells us ( 1 Corinthians 6:19 ). We are no longer alone (Matthew 28:20). As we mature in our faith we learn what it is to “live life to the full” as Christ  always intended for us to do ( John 10:10 )!

Over the years I too have come to the realization that people may come and go, but Jesus will always be. After all, He is the cornerstone upon which the whole of our lives find eternal rest, peace, and fulfillment.

The Key To Knowledge

“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:52)

Marie Curie was a brilliant physicist and chemist that conducted some of the most fundamental and significant research in the study of radioactivity. Her efforts made her the first woman to win the Nobel Prize; not once, but twice!

Yet for all the knowledge she acquired during her research, she missed a critical element of knowledge that would ultimately take her life.

Specifically, the knowledge she lacked was the knowledge that the human body will die if exposed to sustained high levels of radiation. This fact was not known in her day.

She would often carry test tubes of radium around in her pockets while conducting research. She was also exposed to excessive levels of radiation in her early work with mobile X-ray systems that she was creating. Sadly, this brilliant scientist died in July of 1934 from a condition called aplastic anemia, which we know today is frequently brought on by excessive exposure to radiation.

Knowledge can make a significant difference in our lives. As Marie Curie unfortunately discovered, the inverse is also true; a lack of knowledge can also have terrible consequences. Had she known about the dangerous characteristics of radiation, she would have no doubt made different choices in terms of how she handled radioactive samples in her research.

Today, when students study radiation in labs, they are led by teachers that incorporate knowledge on how to safely handle such materials. It would be unconscionable if a teacher ever withheld knowledge on the dangers of radiation to new students.

Education and understanding of knowledge is not a new thing. At one point in his ministry, Jesus had been invited to a meal with several  religious leaders of his day. It was clear that they intended to use their mealtime to promote themselves and their knowledge of the scriptures. Jesus saw through their shallow agenda and spoke truthfully and honestly to them. The Pharisees (Religious leadership) were very offended. The scribes (Legal experts in religious matters) quickly jumped to their defense.

In the end, Jesus made his position clear. In his view, the religious leaders had not only withheld knowledge to the average person that attended church, but intentionally hindered the transfer of knowledge that would lead others to an understanding of His role as the Messiah and to eternal life.

He didn’t mince words with these guys either!

In the verses immediately  prior (Luke 11:51) He made it clear that as holders of such knowledge, these teachers would be held directly accountable for not only taking away knowledge, but for hindering those that were actively seeking to understand the key to eternal life, namely  a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

When I find myself in a role teaching scripture, be it teaching adults or children, I am very mindful of the weight of responsibility that teachers bear. We must always be on guard to fully prepare ourselves and to understand the lessons we teach. Care must be taken to not interpret scriptures in a way that is anything other than what the scriptures are teaching.

We must never do or say anything to hinder someone from coming into a right and eternal relationship with Jesus Christ. Whenever we teach or share information about the scriptures to others, we need to do so with the aim of helping others to grasp the “key of knowledge,”  knowledge of Christ that would permit them to to receive Christ into their lives.

Even if we are not teachers in our church, if we are simply a believer in Christ attending church, we must never shy away from sharing with those that God brings into our lives the knowledge of salvation. While we might not be scholars, our daily conduct, our heart attitude of love towards others are often the only tools we might have to communicate the message of salvation through Christ.

If you’re reading this devotion and have never encountered the living Christ, let me take a moment and share with you what the scriptures tell us about Christ’s love for you and about our mutual need for Christ.

The scriptures tell us that Christ loves you and I to the point of death. He willingly gave his life for me and for you. (John 3:16) The same scriptures also remind us that we are impacted by something called sin. It’s a condition that exists in our world and will keep us separated from God.  Everyone is impacted,( Romans 3:23 ) and unless I take personal steps to address this condition, the condition will result in eternal separation from God when our bodies die. (Romans 6:23) But not to worry, the scriptures share some great news! Jesus has given each of us the opportunity to receive the gift of eternal life. This gift is unmerited and cannot be earned in anyway. (Ephesians 2:8-9 )

So what must one do to receive such a gift!

Admit: Admit that I have sinned and fall short of God’s expectations. The scriptures are clear that all of humanity is impacted by the presence of this sin condition. (Romans 3:23).

Believe: Believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins (John 3:16 and 1:12). Jesus is uniquely qualified to meet God’s standard for entering Heaven. As such, He chose to allow himself to be a substitute for me, to suffer the ultimate consequences of sin, separation from God,  so that I would never have to experience what that might be like. His motive…love.

Conviction: There must be genuine conviction of the need for repentance, confession, and baptism. Our hearts must truly desire to change; we must want to live our lives in a manner that honors God as an ongoing expression of our gratitude for the gift of eternal life, obtained through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9).

How do I do communicate my desire to follow Christ?

We do this by prayer.

Prayer is simply talking to God using our own words. There is no special formula. It’s not magic, its just communicating. Simply 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”

Ask and it will be done for you

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7)

When my Mom was but a young child, she and her sister often spent time with an elderly neighbor lady. The lady’s husband, a former traveling minister, had passed away several years before. The girls would visit for breakfast to keep her company and together they built a lasting friendship. Over the years she became somewhat of a surrogate grandmother to the girls.

One day, when the elderly lady sensed that her time was near, she called the girls together and shared some things with them about life and death. She said that soon her body would die, but she wanted to reassure the girls that she would be in Heaven with Jesus. She told them to remember that on that day, only her body would be left behind, but she would be in Heaven with a new young body that would never grow old.

My Mom later told me that when that day arrived, she and her sister were greatly encouraged by the wise words of this elderly lady. On the day of her funeral, as they peered into the open casket, they saw but a shell and remembered the conversation that had taken place only a few months prior.

In a similar fashion, just prior to facing His crucifixion, Jesus took time to speak with his closest followers. He shared much with His disciples to help prepare them for what was to come. He did this to affirm their faith in Him and to allay their fears of an imminent future without His physical presence in their midst.

Part of that conversation related to prayer.

Jesus said that He would  respond to the disciples prayers by doing for them whatever it was they prayed for.

When it comes to prayer, many that claim a faith in Christ will often hedge on this bold statement. Will God really do for me whatever I pray for?

To play it safe, some will pray in a manner that gives God a graceful way out. Or we might conclude that perhaps Jesus simply misspoke in a moment of spiritual enthusiasm. But then we would have to reconcile the fact that John recorded Jesus on no less than six occasions, putting forth this idea of “ask and you shall receive” when praying.

a. John 14:13 “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

b. John 14:14 “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

c. John 15:7 “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for  you.”

d. John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”

e. John 16:23 “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”

f. John 16:24 “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

Focusing in on John 15:7 allowed me to better understand the fullness of what Jesus was sharing when He made this bold commitment regarding prayer.

Jesus shared that answered prayer comes about when two conditions are met:

1. We remain in Him:

2. His words remain in us:

The first condition speaks to the genuineness of our relationship with Jesus. With it comes this idea that we “remain” in Jesus. The Greek word for “remain” in this context is transliterated as “meinete;” which means to stay in one place for an extended period of time. This speaks of knowing Jesus in a consistent and deep relational way, not viewing him simply as a figure in history, or as an intellectual fact, but as a person. The focus here is on the depth of our relationship with Christ.

I know that the depth of my relationship with my wife drastically increased once we transitioned from dating to being married and living together. Spurgeon once said; “You have to live with Christ to know Him.”  Our relationship with Christ needs to have that same type of depth and intimacy to it. This is the first condition towards our prayers being answered.

Jesus also shared that His words needed to remain in us as the second condition to answered prayer. The same Greek word for “remain” is at play here, just in a slightly different context. It holds this idea of continuous obedience to Jesus, but not in a follow the rules kind of way, but as John Rodney, author of “The IVP New Testament Commentary Series” noted; the intent is to convey the idea that our very life should continuously  “conform…to the pattern of God’s own life.” Our lives should be in such complete alignment with the heart of Christ, that our  requests would naturally coincide with His will.

When both conditions are met, our Heavenly Father will see our prayer requests from the same perspective from which He  looks upon the requests that come directly from His son Jesus. If our hearts and minds are one in Christ, then our requests to the Father would naturally be as if Christ delivered the request Himself to the Father. And because we are one in heart and mind, then the very nature of our request would be in alignment with God’s will, and so “it will be done for you.”

Copyright 2015 FullLifeWord

Don’t You Remember?

“Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” (Mark 8:18)

There have been many studies over the years that have researched our ability to retain what we learn. Most of these studies have shown that we only retain about five percent of the knowledge passed down to us through lectures, about ten percent when we read, and fifty percent when we discuss what it was we just heard. But the number improves exponentially when we practice and apply what we have learned in real life situations.

I don’t know if there is a spiritual equivalent, I sense that there might be, because at times I have found myself having to relearn a spiritual truth in my life, sometimes more than once.

Upon reflection, I suppose that I’m comforted to know that the scriptures recorded that the disciples, guys that hung around Jesus every day for several years, evidently had similar struggles.

On one of those occasions, Mark recorded that Jesus had recently demonstrated his capacity to feed thousands in two separate events in which the disciples were present; yet Jesus overheard an anxious conversation amongst the disciples while on one of their boat trips. They had discovered that they had only packed one loaf of bread amongst them for the entire journey. Oops…typical guys…everyone thought someone else took care of the trip logistics.

Hearing the conversation, Jesus reminded them that they had witnessed Him feed thousands…then He the asked them;

“…don’t you remember?”

In many ways, I’m at times like those disciples. I’m quick to get anxious, and at times quick to forget how God has provided for me in difficult times. I believe that part of my maturing will evidence itself when I start doing a better job at remembering the times when God has provided or comforted me instead of allowing myself to respond to a new situation with anxiety.

I can understand that non-believers would have good reason to respond to life’s pressures with anxiety, but those of us that follow Jesus, should respond by first remembering God’s gracious responses when we have faced pressures or circumstances in the past.

My failure to respond in faith reflects my lack of gratitude and trust in our Lord. Instead, I need to practice and apply my faith by trusting for God’s current provision and remembering His past provisions .

Peace Through Division

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

A sword divides that which it strikes. By its nature it is associated with conflict. We are called to honor God with all of our being, with all that we are. We do so not out of obligation, but from a continuous loving response to His love for us.

As His people, we are called to be holy. This is a reflection of God’s very nature. The Hebrew word for “holy” means that we are to be “set apart,” such that we may serve God in a manner that is consistent with His nature.

It is from the scriptures that we learn of God’s nature, we know this through God’s word which is made known to us through his Spirit which resides within each of us. (Ephesians 6:17) His word has been described as the “sword of the Spirit.”

We are on a journey in this life, however long or short it might be. In this time, God’s word is penetrating and powerful, it will judge our very thoughts, attitudes, and the true motivations of our hearts and minds. (Hebrews 4:12)

It’s only when we respond honestly; to the reality of what God’s word reveals in our hearts, that we grow, that our journey in this life becomes clear, that His peace reigns over any circumstance we may face.

Are you being truly honest with yourself in what God is revealing about you and your life’s choices, your priorities, or how you’re spending your time and resources? Dividing is painful, but more so when we cling to that which we should let go.

To be set apart is to divide ourselves from our old self and to cling to God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. For only then shall we experience a lasting peace that transcends all understanding.