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

 

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2017

Where Our Treasure Lives

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34, NIV)

My wife is without a doubt my very best friend in this life. Over the many years of our marriage we have traveled through countless life challenges. A great deal of our success in navigating through the storms of life has been our common love for Jesus. It’s been through our common love of our Lord that we have learned to value the things that God values, and in so doing we have benefited as He has poured out His richest blessings upon us.

Over the years I have had the pleasure of learning what it means to “cherish” when it comes to life’s most important of relationships. I cherish my wife and have come to recognize that the things of this life have little value in comparison.

There is a proverb in scriptures that says; “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” Now I don’t know what a bunch of rubies might be worth these days, but I completely concur with the sentiment of the writer of this proverb. Indeed, whatever they’re worth pales in comparison to the value of my love for my very best friend.

It turns out that our heart priorities are not only important in our earthly relationships but also in our Heavenly relationships.

Our heart is connected most to the things in life where we invest our time, energy, and resources. From this one might deduce what we value most. In terms of my Heavenly relationship with Jesus, I have made the conscience choice to invest and store my treasures in things eternal, in living out my life in a way that most honors God’s heart. My choice to do so is motivated as a simple expression of my gratitude to a gracious and loving God that has always had my best interests in mind.

While it is true that my salvation through Christ is due entirely by God’s grace, and not by anything I could ever do myself, (Eph 2:8-9)  I do make the choice to treasure my relationship in Jesus through prayer, the study of His word, and in living out my faith authentically and practically to those around me. It is my desire that my family, co-workers, friends, and even total strangers see God’s love expressed in the manner in which I live out my life. (John 13:35)

The scriptures remind me that my love for my wife is to be measured against the standards that Christ has established and not my own. Having said that, the scriptures share that I am to love her just as Christ loved the church; with the heart of a servant, unselfishly, and sacrificially. (Eph 5:25) In this way she would know the degree in which I cherish her in this life.

Similarly, in my daily life it is my desire to live out my life transparently and authentically, honoring Jesus in all that I say and do so that others would see His love for them lived out and expressed in practical terms.

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

The Great Piggy Bank Heist

“It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.” -Matthew 24:46

 
The Great Train Robbery of ’63 that occurred in London had nothing on the heist I was involved in, known simply by our family as the “Great Piggy Bank Heist.”

I was in kindergarten at the time, and my older brother (Heretofore known as the “ringleader”) was in the second grade. It was in this state of advanced education that he gained certain, albeit incomplete, understandings of money. In school he learned that coins had some sort of intrinsic value, what value of course, was still beyond my limited understanding, but I was certain that my brother understood all those details, and would one day enlighten me with his vast storehouse of learning.

In any event, we had in our shared bedroom a closet; and on the closet floor, way in the back, were two genuine ceramic piggy banks. One was mine and the other was my brother’s. Evidently, as I learned many years later, my Mom had a tradition of giving each child a piggy bank and putting coins in the bank minted with the year of their birth.

Of course my brother and I didn’t know of such details, and while the pigs were a curiosity, they never garnered much in the way of attention; at least not until my brother learned in school that the coins contained within each pig could somehow be traded for toys. Of course the specifics of how such a transaction might come about had yet to be determined.

It was a Saturday morning, and the ringleader filled me in on exactly how this was to go down. Dad was at the store, and Mom was around the house doing things moms do. My job was to stand by the door and keep a lookout for Mom.

The ringleader explained to me that he had evidently developed a clever way of inverting the ceramic pig while shaking it at a given frequency. In doing so, he explained; the coinage would come out of the little slot on the top of the pig’s back. (Somehow in this moment of dazzling insight, he failed to notice the rubber plug on the belly of the pig, which would have made our heist considerably more successful. This and other such overlooked details would ultimately be our undoing.)

At the appointed time, I took my position by the bedroom door, and when Mom went into the garage with and armful of laundry, I gave the signal for the extraction process to start. A lot of shaking was taking place, rather nosily I might add, but not many coins were making it out.

The garage door coming into the house opened suddenly, and Mom reappeared. I quickly hushed the ringleader until she disappeared into another room.

After the coast was clear the shaking resumed. Soon the shaking took on a different resonance, more of an up and down shake pattern. This resulted in a better yield. My brother was clearly brilliant! The coins were practically pouring out onto the wood floor making a steady tinkling pitter patter sound in our closet.

In due process, I observed the ringleader skillfully sorting through the growing pile and tossing aside the dimes and collecting the other coins. I asked him why he was doing that. He explained to me, as one with an air of superior knowledge; that obviously the dimes were smaller, in fact they were the smallest coins amongst coins, and therefore they could hardly be worth much when it came time to trade coins for toys. I could find no flaw in such a sound argument. Soon he had the larger pennies stacked neatly, as were the nickels and the occasional quarter, while the diminutive dimes were set aside. With that said, he resumed the shaking.

As there hadn’t been a Mom sighting in a while and my interest in the lookout job was waning, I took it upon myself to gradually move closer to the action, away from my post so that I might study the coin extraction technique in more detail. I figured at my age, having already decided on becoming a lifelong learner, I figured it was to my advantage to pick up a few life skills along the way. This trade the metal coins for fun toys was an example of some real out of the box thinking. Gone would be the days of waiting on birthdays and Christmas times for toys.

It wasn’t long before I found myself standing behind my brother, who was on his knees and halfway in the closet, all the while skillfully shaking one of our beloved pigs. At that moment, one of the lowly dimes popped out of the pig he was shaking. It hit the wood floor and rolled just past me. I was following it with my eyes, and as I turned my head slightly, I noticed that the dime suddenly stopped as it struck a pair of shoes. Unfortunately for us, our careers as professional piggy bank boosters were over, as the dime stopping shoes were occupied by our Mom.

As I reminisced on this childhood memory of my Mom returning unexpectedly to find us boosting the piggy bank, instead of doing what we should have been doing, it reminded me that Jesus is concerned with what I’m doing with my life right now. If He were to show up unexpectedly, as my Mom had, would He approve of what I’ve been doing? As a believer and follower of Christ, I know that He has entrusted me with talents and abilities to use wisely in my earthly life. But what exactly should I be doing? While there are many things I could be doing, I would like to touch on at least three activities I sense we should all be doing.

As a believer, I ought to be living my life out authentically. By that I mean, my life should reflect the principles and character of God as much as possible and as consistently as possible. Not out of a sense of just following a bunch of rules, rather from a place of gratitude in my heart for the love and grace He has already expressed to me.

Jesus said that the love we express and show for one another will identify us with Him to the rest of the world around us.(John 13:35) My life should be marked as a life lived with integrity before God. My motives and heart should be aligned such, that I am viewing life and life situations, as much as possible from God’s perspective. (1 Thessalonians 2:4) That means that I should not allow my life to be governed solely by the approval of others. On the other hand, neither should I fall into a life of challenging others to live out their lives authentically, if I’m not also willing to live by those same principles that Scriptures teach. (Romans 2:21-22)

Secondly, to the best of my ability, I need to do my part to maintain the integrity of God’s Word in my life. This means that I must resist the pressure to compromise or dilute God’s standards defined in His Word for me. (Jude 3) Instead, we need to partner with the Holy Spirit to preserve and teach from the scriptures what God intended for us to hear and then do. (1 Timothy 1:11, 2 Timothy 1:14) All of this is challenging, because we live in unprecedented times in our country. Yet we must find a way to express God’s perspective to a lost world with respect, and to engage our fellow believers with love. (1 Peter 1:22) This approach makes sense to me because that’s how Christ approached me.

Lastly, I need to trust that God is executing His perfect plan for my life and in the world we live in. We need to live expectantly, awaiting Christ’s return and to be prepared for that day. (1 Thessalonians 1:7; 2 Timothy 1:12)

Much like my Mom suddenly appearing, we don’t know when Christ will return; (Matthew 24:36) but we do know this, that He will! And when He does, I want to be caught doing His will and not my own.

Remembering the True Enemy

“Katniss, when you are in the arena, you just remember who the true enemy is.”
― Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire

When I visit with my Mom at her nursing home, we talk about a variety of topics. Often these topics are the same ones we covered in previous visits, although from her perspective they’re all new.

Despite her loss of memory, I’ve noticed that almost every visit incorporates some type of discussion around spiritual matters. We’ll talk about various passages in the Bible that she will bring up; each of us sharing our thoughts and ideas about a particular passage.

The last time we met, we spoke of a passage in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus encountered a woman from the Samaritan town of Sychar.

Jesus of course was a Jew, and she was a Samaritan. Historically, these two peoples did not see eye to eye, in fact, a great deal of animosity and friction existed between both groups based upon events far back in history. Things were so bad that they could hardly be in proximity to one another, and would not typically speak to each other or accept food or drink from one another.

Jesus initiated conversation with her, and in doing so, broke social protocol by simply asking for a cup of water. With this, their dialogs begin, and soon thereafter she learned who Jesus really was, the promised messiah; God who came to save those that would place their faith in Him. She quickly saw his love and compassion, how it spanned and overcame all of the history of hate, hurt, and mindless harm that had come between the two people groups.

As my mom and I shared about this passage, we begin to imagine what a scene that must have been. What peace and joy that must have existed in that town as they experienced firsthand, the love and grace of God. Many lives were forever changed in the days that followed as the townspeople came to recognize and place their trust in Jesus. Old ways of thinking died, and new ways begin.

For some, it may have been the first time they’d realized that their common enemy was not found in their history of hate and distrust of each other, but rather, it was sin, a condition that caused an absence of a personal relationship with God, and allowed the effects of evil to cloud their minds and hearts.

Scriptures remind us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” rather our struggle is truly against the “spiritual forces of evil.” It was evil that kept hatred and anger alive between the Jews and Samaritans for many years, blinding them to the truth about God and His love for them.

As I’ve looked at the headlines during the past few weeks, my heart has been profoundly, yet unsurprisingly saddened, to see how little we have progressed in two thousand years since that unique encounter in the town of Sychar.

Regrettably, sin and evil feature prominently in our news and daily lives, but the scriptures offer hope, news of a different sort. The real Christmas story, is the story of God coming to this hurting world in the person of Jesus. He went on to overcome evil at the most basic level, and to bring us into a right relationship with Him.

I pray that as we celebrate Christmas this year…that we not only remember the real reason we celebrate, but that we also never forget “who the true enemy is.”

(“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” – Excerpt from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia.)

The Depth of Love

Recently, I saw a demonstration of the harsh environment of the ocean in a news report. Scientists were showing the effects of water pressure on various objects at depths of fifteen thousand feet. These various everyday objects were taken by a deep sea submarine to the great depths of the ocean. When they were returned to the surface, they did so, crushed to a fraction of their original size. All this owing to the great pressures found at such incredible depths.

This poignant picture caused me to consider the strength of love. Love faces great pressures each day, pressures from the effects of our lives, from the challenges we face, from our choices, and I suppose ultimately from our natural hearts. We naturally do not possess the shielding required to preserve ourselves under these conditions.

Thankfully we have a place we can draw upon to build up the strength, to love ourselves and others, in the face of the many great difficulties and challenges of this life.

I speak of course of the love of Christ.

According to the scriptures, God’s most amazing and eternal love, has been given to each of us who trust Him and have surrendered to Him, “…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”(Rom 5:5)

And this love that He has given us can never be taken from us. “…neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Rom 8:39)

The scriptures tell us that love has many qualities, including the fact that love seeks to trust, to hope, and to persevere.

Life is hard. And sometimes those closest to us are the ones that say or do things that can really challenge us. For the Believer though, we must seek to view those times through the lens of God, utilizing the Love that he has placed in our hearts. With this love we must seek to exhibit His patience to those we love, as He does each day for us. After all, none of us are very far from His Grace. For that we can be thankful.

To love someone deeply, is to not be easily angered when they do unloving things, to not dishonor them, to not keep any record of wrongs, and to remember, that in the end, true love never fails.

Let me conclude by sharing an excerpt from the Apostle Paul, a note about love that he recorded in a letter to the members of an early church, in the city of Corinth in about AD 55. His observations about Love are timeless.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Simplified Cosmological View: Does God Exist?

This is a profound question.

In fact, it’s a very foundational question.

If one truly does not believe that there is a God, then the Christian worldview is a wholly inadequate explanation for our reality. What one believes in this regard will have lasting and eternal consequences in their lives.

The scriptures tell us that God is the source for the cosmos we see all around us. (Genesis 1) That it was God who created everything in the cosmos. Can we rule God out as the origin of this creative power?

How do we reasonably determine if it is possible that God exists?

One view is what I would describe as a “simplified cosmological view.”

In the end, what is the best explanation that describes the existence of the cosmos that surrounds us?

There are only two logical possibilities to this question:

1.The cosmos had a specific beginning point in time. A time when at one moment there existed nothing, and in the next moment there existed something.

OR

2.The cosmos has always existed, having been around for eternity.

In investigative science, one must draw conclusions about reality and truth based upon both the measurable and circumstantial evidence. If the preponderance of evidence suggests a reality, then that becomes the reality we must hold to until sufficient contradictory evidence is presented to the contrary.

From a purely naturalistic perspective, meaning a view without any consideration for a supernatural being such as God, neither of the above explanations seems to offer us a reasonable conclusion about our cosmos.

Nonetheless, these are the only two options that exist; therefore we will have to work with them.

To aid us in our evaluation, we’ll use a tool from science. Scientists often formulate their questions in the structure of a hypothesis.  A hypothesis is a statement that takes the form:

  1. Null Hypothesis: (H0) What I am trying to disprove, there is no difference, status quo.
  1. Alternative Hypothesis: (HA) What I am trying to prove, there is a difference.

Together, HA and H0 cover all the possibilities.

Logically, it is easier to disprove something than it is to prove it.  Therefore, the claim to be tested appears as H0.  We can reject H0 or fail to reject it.   We can never accept it.

One of these hypotheses represents reality with respect to God:

  1. Null Hypothesis (H0): God does not exist

Or

  1. Alternative Hypothesis (HA): We have failed to prove that God does not exist, therefore there is a possibility that He exists and must be considered in our reality.

There are many points upon which we might apply this test, but for the sake of brevity, we will only consider the existence of our cosmos to make our case of whether or not God might exist.

Going back to our two logical possibilities for the existence of the cosmos,

1. The cosmos had a specific beginning point in time. A time when at one moment there existed nothing, and in the next moment there existed something.

OR

2. The cosmos has always existed, having been around for eternity.

Let’s take a look at item 2 first.

Basic physics tells us that due to the first and second laws of thermodynamics our cosmos, had it been in existence forever, would be a cold dead place at this very moment. Given the infinite size of the cosmos, it is not possible for us to be here now if the cosmos never had a beginning that it has always existed.

The first law, in laymen’s terms, says that all the energy we have is all we get. Energy may transfer, or change form, but “new” energy cannot be created from nothing.

The second law, also in very simplistic terms, states that every time energy gets transferred or transformed, some of it becomes less useful. In time, all of it becomes useless. In time, all of this less useful energy gets radiated out into the cosmos and dissipated over an infinite degree of space.

Another way to wrap your mind around the second law of thermodynamics is to consider the following.

Suppose we walked into a sealed gymnasium in the depth of a winter snow storm in the middle of the night with no lights turned on. The gym would be super cold; in fact it would be freezing, and very dark.

In the middle of this cavernous gym there was a table and a single white candle. You extract a small flashlight and a lighter and approach the table. You light the wick and turn off your light.

The wax of the candle is a form of stored energy, and it can be released by lighting the wick which transforms the stored energy into light and heat energy. The flame on the candle is hot enough to burn your finger if you were close enough to it. You might even feel some of the heat energy even as much as a few inches from the flame. But if you walk across the entire gym, it’s not likely you will feel any heat energy from the candle.

If you had a super sensitive thermometer however, the device would in fact pick up a slight increase of temperature of the air in the gym. Other than looking like a distant star on a dark night, the energy from this candle is pretty useless energy as far as you’re concerned; it doesn’t do anything to actually keep you warm.

Eventually the candle converts all of the wax to heat energy, and runs out of fuel. The flame flickers and then goes out. You’re immediately plunged into total darkness. In time, the heat energy released from the candle will equally distribute itself in the room. But a lot of good that will do you!  If you stayed in the gym, eventually you would freeze to death!

Imagine that the candle represents all the energy of all the stars in our cosmos, and the gym represents our cosmos. Given enough time, our stars, like the candle, would convert all of their energy into a less useful form, which would distribute itself across the cosmos. Given our cosmos is infinitely large, and the known amount of matter is fixed,  and can never increase (Law 1) then if our cosmos had been in existence forever, you would not be reading this now, and it would be really cold and dark.

So option 2, our Universe has been in existence forever is not an option.

Logically then, that leaves us with option 1, that our Universe had a beginning. But what about the first law? The first law pretty much seals up option 1, because if the Universe had a beginning, then that would imply that matter and energy had to be created from nothing to make the beginning possible, something physicists know cannot happen. Is that the end of the story? Neither option working?

Nope.

Fortunately there were a couple of really smart scientists that have proved with science that the Universe had to have a beginning.

Dr. Albert Einstein created a mathematical model that demonstrated an expanding Universe. Not liking that idea, he put in a “cosmological constant” to fix that problem. (He later regretted ever having done that.)

One of Einstein’s contemporaries, Dr. Edwin Hubble, (Namesake of the Hubble Space Telescope) also made some astounding astronomical observations that showed an expanding Universe. Scientists since, have universally acknowledged that our Universe is in fact expanding and emanating from a particular point. Most of us know this commonly as the “Big Bang Theory.”

Why is it significant to our story that the universe is expanding from a central point?

Think of it this way. Suppose you traveled to a lake that was absolutely smooth, there were no ripples on the surface of the water anywhere.

Now suppose that you were hovering in a helicopter with a video camera pointed down to the lake, and dropped a big rock in the middle of it. You begin to film the concentric rings of ripples expanding outwards from the point of impact in the middle of the lake.

Once you got home and watched the video, you could see the expanding ripples of water  moving out in all directions from the point of impact. At some point, you realized that you could watch the video in reverse, and in so doing you observed that the rings gradually moved towards the point of impact, until you saw the moment the rock hit the lake.

The expanding rings had a beginning, the beginning was when the rock hit the lake surface.

Likewise, the cosmos also has a beginning. If we could track all the galaxies, stars, and planets on video from the beginning of time, and then play it backwards, we would see the single point where everything emanated from.

Scientists have since named this point, calling it a singularity.

Metaphysically, all of the above create a very interesting dilemma for naturalists. The only way that our cosmos could have come into being, without any supernatural events, would be to violate the natural laws of physics.

We have then, just from the cosmological aspect of our universe, a solid source of data that points us to a supernatural start of our cosmos.

Most commonly, we have ascribed such supernatural powers to only one being, God.

Do we live a life that overcomes…or are we overcome by life?

.”…having the form of godliness but denying its power.” -2 Tim 3:5

Today we are under remarkable pressure to dilute God. To qualify Him so that what is left is a façade of godliness without power. It is no wonder that when we face hardships and temptations, we often grow frustrated and powerless to bring meaningful change to our lives.

Jesus shared that His coming from the Father was so that we “may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) Yet for many there is a reluctance to fully embrace all that God is.

Perhaps we accept the life of Christ…but have not claimed the transformational power of Christ. Perhaps we have received Christ as our Savior, but have not given Him the full reign of our life.

If so, then we are denying God the foothold needed to bring His full power into our lives..

Without accepting fully the power of God, we are assured to face the same struggles time and again with victory remaining forever elusive.

In a tangible way, while we cannot see electrical power we know it exists. One only needs to touch a live wire to verify its existence. For obvious reasons of safety, we don’t touch live wires, instead we believe the experts and take if by faith that such power exists and can harm us.

Scriptures tell us that “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1)

Lasting transformation comes only through the power of God, and that can only be received through faith, and while we cannot directly “see” the power of God, we can see our lives changed in ways that we know would not have been possible on our own.

Take a moment now and pray. Ask Him for the faith to receive His power into your life, only then will you begin to live a life that overcomes.

 

Copyright 2013