Restored From Loneliness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. God’s love for us is perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you one of the lonely?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dear Lord,

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

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

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

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

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

Life: At the Intersection of Love and Action

When I was a child I knew for certain I was loved. There was never a doubt in my mind about the love my parents had for me and my siblings. Yet that love was rarely expressed in words, almost always in deeds. I’ve never dwelt on that too much, but in my heart, I’ve always found value in the additional expression of love in three simple words:

“I love you.”

Now married with my own kids, my wife and I have made it a point to express to one another, and to our children these all important words.

By themselves these are just words. But when coupled by our actions they’re activated, becoming the catalyst of life that restores, forgives, bonds, grows, encourages, strengthens, inspires, brings hope, serves, surrenders, and transforms. These words become a living reality in our lives and in the lives that they touch.

Life happens at the intersection of love and action.

When our kids were younger, they saw the contrast of how love and actions were lived out in our home and expressed in their grandparents home. They picked up on the fact that the words “I love you” were rarely expressed directly, rather love was mostly expressed through actions. They understood that their grandparents loved them dearly, just as I knew that they loved me as their son. Not willing to let this observation go to waste they decided to made a game of it, particularly with my Dad. They wanted to see if they could get Grandpa to say the words “I love you” more frequently by prompting him somehow.

Going forward, when our visits with my parents would conclude, our kids would make it a point to express their sentiments in words and in the form of a hug. (Bridging action and words.) At first it was a bit awkward, I don’t think my Dad knew exactly how to respond. But then something interesting begin to happen. It was almost as though he was given permission to respond in kind, and he often did. “I love you” became easier to say. What was always in his heart found expression in words.

In the Bible, Luke captured the close relationship that Peter and Jesus shared. Peter, by nature was somewhat impulsive and prone to act before thinking, but during their time together, Peter developed a greater appreciation for what it meant to love another.

Life is hard, there is no escaping that reality. But through our many life experiences, if we are patient and seek God with an expectant heart, we will know what it is to be loved by our Lord; we will experience the vast richness of his enveloping love for us.

During the last supper, Peter expressed that he was willing to show by action his love commitment to Jesus by declaring to Jesus that he would be willing to “go to prison” or perhaps even being willing “to die” with Jesus if things came to that.

But Jesus knew something about Peter; he knew that Peter’s statement had more to do with Peter’s pride and independence of heart, than with grasping the true meaning and significance of genuine love. Peter was moving so fast in life that he hadn’t paused to deeply understand the sincere depth of Christ’s love for him.

In life, one of the greatest expressions of love is when a parent recognizes that moment when their child might be in harms way and takes action to intercede on their behalf. Children often fail to recognize an immediate threat, and when a parent intercedes, a child may complain of the intersession. But a wise parent, with real life experiences will intercede in the life of their child to protect them from serious harm, regardless of the child’s response.

We who have placed our faith in the saving power of Jesus are God’s children, and Jesus loves us so much that he intercedes for us on a regular basis. In fact, the greatest form of  intercession was when Jesus willingly died for us on the cross to provide for us, via unmerited grace, eternal life with him.

Luke recorded a time when Jesus, because of his love for Peter, interceded on Peter’s behalf. Recall that Peter’s given name was Simon. It was when he met Jesus that Jesus gave him another name, “Peter.” When translated, it meant “Rock.” Think of it as a kind of a nickname. (Petros is the Greek word of “a piece of rock or stone.” )(1)

Jesus shared with Peter:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”” (Luke 22:31–32, NLT)

Here was Jesus sharing with Peter, God’s child,  how he interceded on his behalf knowing that Satan was out to bring great harm to Peter.

And what do you suppose Peter’s response was?

Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”(Luke 22:33 NLT)

Peter’s response to Jesus seemed to say, “Lord, I don’t need your intersession, I can handle this on my own, in fact, I’m strong enough that no one could dissuade me from you; I’m even willing to show you that; by either going to prison with you or even dying!”

Did you sense the pride in his response! The “Rock” showing off his self-sufficiency and ego. Jesus knew Peter’s heart to be filled with pride and self-sufficiency. We can infer this by how Jesus responded to Peter’s statement:

But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”” (Luke 22:33–34, NLT)

Notice when Jesus responded to Simon he did so by his nickname, “Rock.” I don’t want to infer more than needed here, but as the reader, I sensed that it was almost as though Jesus was saying, “Hey Mr. Tough Guy, Mr. Rock, let me tell you something, before the rooster crows…”

Not much later we see the entire prediction of Jesus unfold before our eyes. Luke captures the moment when Peter denied his association with Jesus for the third time:

But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.

At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter.

Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.” (Luke 22:60–62, NLT)

How crushing this must have been for Peter! The heart of the Rock and been reduced to pebbles.

The moment the rooster had crowed, Peter had been close enough to Jesus for them to make eye contact. In that instant, the Lord’s prediction replayed in Peter’s mind, imploding Peter from the inside. One could only begin to imagine the humility and anguish that Peter experienced as he looked into the hurting eyes of Jesus. No words were exchanged, yet everything was said.

If that had been the end of the story this would have been a horrible tragedy. Peter would have no doubt replayed this event over and over and wished that he had handled things differently. He no doubt felt like he had let Jesus down, that he had abandoned him in his hour of need. In Peter’s mind, the Rock was no longer, he was incapable of ever leading anything, much less the new church.

Fortunately for Peter, Jesus’ actions would soon be followed by words of restoration and redemption from Jesus himself.

Shortly after the resurrection, the disciples had all encountered the risen Jesus multiple times in one venue or another. Yet the words of restoration and love from Jesus to Peter came at a later encounter, just prior to Jesus’ return to heaven. It was during this encounter that Jesus publicly restored Peter. This critical conversation took place along the familiar shores of the Sea of Galilee soon after the risen Jesus had finished having breakfast with his beloved disciples.

The apostle John captured the moment between Peter and Jesus:

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

For each prior denial of Jesus that Peter had made, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. In the the end, Peter acknowledged that God knew all things, therefore Jesus had to also know of Peter’s true heart of love. Gone was Peter’s selfish pretense and pride, replaced instead with a servant’s heart of genuine love and humility for his Lord.

These words publicly spoken by Jesus before Peter and the other disciples fully restored Peter. These were deep constructive words that assured Peter not only of Jesus’ love, but of Jesus’ confidence in Peter’s role as a servant leader to the early church.

Similarly, as we go about our daily lives, our view of love needs to be like that of our Lord. We need to be prepared to build up those closest to us and to never underestimate the value of expressing those critical three words to those closest to us:

“I love you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(1) John F. MacArthur Jr., Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness, and What He Wants to Do with You (Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group, 2002), 34.

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.