Released from the Prison of Our Past

Known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies”, The United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum( ADX), is prison just outside of Florence, Colorado. It was built in 1994 at a cost of $60 million dollars. ADX was designed to house the worst of the worst offenders. Most prisoners enter ADX with multiple life sentences. They’re the kind of people that even other high security prisons don’t want to be responsible for.(1)

The prison itself exists in a desolate geographic area, designed such that once inside, a person loses all sense of direction. There are no windows, except a few small openings facing the sky directly above. Inmates spend their days in 12-by-7-foot cells with thick concrete walls. Each cell comes equipped with a set of double solid steel doors, thus preventing inmates from seeing or communicating with one another. Inmates are permitted solo workout sessions in an indoor “gym”, a windowless concrete cell with a single pull-up bar for up to one hour per day. (2)

All meals are provided via a slot built into the interior door, visible only after a guard opens the exterior door. Inmates sleep on concrete slabs covered by a thin mattress. The exterior of the prison is surrounded by a series of twelve-foot fences festooned with coils of deadly sharp razor wire. The facilities and grounds are covered with thousands of motion detectors, cameras, and pressure-sensitive sensors. This is not a place anyone would ever wish to end up in. It was once described by former warden Robert Hood, as a “clean version of Hell.” To date, no serious escape effort has ever been attempted much less succeeded.(3)

The future is bleak for those incarcerated in ADX. A hopeless place to spend the balance of one’s life. The only way an inmate leaves ADX is after they’re dead. They will never again taste the freedom that was once theirs.

There are different kinds of prisons in this life. Some are tangible like ADX, while others are virtual and personal. Often these virtual prisons are built from the artifacts of one’s own past.

For many, our pasts can lock us out of the present. In effect, we become a prisoner, securely locked from the present, prevented from experiencing a life filled with true freedom in the present. As is often the case, many have pasts filled with hurt and disappointment. In some cases, our pasts include some form of physical or emotional trauma.

At times we can believe that we’ve conquered the hurt from our early life experiences, only to discover later, that despite our best efforts, there exists of an ember of our past which has remained alive and unquenched.

For these situations, it only takes the right set of circumstances to fan this ember into the flames of disappointment and hurt, to relive the pain experienced over a lifetime of trauma. It’s here that the abused sometimes becomes the abuser, becoming the very person they had most despised. For some, a sense of real peace about their past is often just out of reach.

The scriptures remind us of this generational cycle of hurt that so easily is passed from parents to children, often through multiple generations. God warns about such a possibility when he expressed caution to those that chose to reject and hate him. He said; “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” (Exodus 20:5, NIV)

The “punishment,” or practical consequences of a parent’s choice to hate God, impacts their children, but not all children, only those children that become adults and continue to actively model their parent’s hatred towards God.(4) But when children in subsequent generations are able to break the cycle of hatred, then the effect is to experience God’s love for many generations to come:

“but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:6, NIV)

If you judge yourself to be held captive by some sort of trauma in your past life, and if you seek to genuinely be the one to break the cycle, then the logical question to ask is: “How does one proceed? “

In the very first step, we must surrender our lives totally and completely to God. We need to become followers of Jesus. It’s only from this relational perspective that we have the beginnings of real change available to us.

We then need to understand and apply the principles and power of forgiveness that the scriptures teach, followed by the establishment of healthy boundaries in all our relationships.

One of the most powerful tools we can use to break the cycle of hurt and to free us from our past, is found in the principles of forgiveness that scriptures call us to seek out.

Peter once explored this topic of forgiveness with Jesus, as captured by Matthew in the Gospels:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)

In Peter’s day, there was a rabbinic perspective that one need only to forgive another three times, and then afterword’s, no more forgiveness should be offered up. (5)

At the time he was asking these questions around the topic of forgiveness, Peter was in the process of growing in his relationship with Jesus. He had observed that Jesus often approached faith in a non-legalistic way. Jesus consistently approached life from the perspective of God’s grace and love. In a way, Peter was attempting to seek out the rules around the boundaries for forgiveness. Peter clearly felt it pretty good to suggest that he might consider more than doubling the number of times one might offer forgiveness, from three to seven times!

He was likely surprised by Jesus’ response, when Jesus said “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” In this expression, Jesus was communicating that there are no practical limits to forgiveness. In fact, living out forgiveness was one way that the followers of Jesus conducted their lives. It’s a distinctive of the Christian faith. The backdrop of course, is found in the ultimate reality that each of us have been forgiven by God with his unlimited grace. Thankfully, God hasn’t limited the number of times he has forgiven me.

The Apostle Paul further helps us make that connection between our forgiveness to others and Christ’s forgiveness towards ourselves when he wrote:

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13, NIV)

You see, when we fail to forgive, in a way we’ve taken on the weight of the offense in our own lives. Ultimately, such a choice can’t help but become expressed in our behaviors. It impacts our hearts and our minds. Sadly, such unresolved offenses can end up driving us to becoming the person we’ve most dreaded.

God reminds us that harboring our feelings in this way is not healthy, and in the end, the offense is not ours to carry. Ours is to release it to him and to allow God to deal with the offender. Paul further shared:

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, NIV)

Our part in this life is to act on God’s desires through faith, to prayerfully ask for his grace in our lives to forgive others, thus allowing us to be released from our past.

In all of this, we must be prepared that our release of forgiveness towards others may not result in a reciprocal response from the offender. Even as we forgive the offender, the offender may not respond in kind or even acknowledge the offense perpetrated against us.

We furthermore must accept that only God can change their hearts, and therefore their ways of living. (Just as he changed our hearts which has lead us to change our lives and enabled us to offer forgiveness to others.) Even as we have forgiven them, they may remain the person they are, and they may in some ways continue to offend us. The Apostle Paul recognized that this was possible. His counsel was to not worry about how the other person might or might not respond. The point is, you have done in faith as your Lord has asked, having forgiven the offender and having turned the matter over to the Lord for final resolution. Paul shared:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NIV)

The second key step is to establish healthy boundaries in all of our relationships, but particularly with those that have or continue to offend towards us, even after we have forgiven them, perhaps multiple times.

It’s not practically possible in this allotted space to expand on this very important topic of relational boundaries. For those of you who are interested, I highly recommend the following resource:

“Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of your life.” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, published by Zondervan, 2017.

Cloud and Townsend explore this topic in depth, and I believe that this topic, coupled with the application of forgiveness towards those that have offended or harmed us in our past, offer a great start towards freeing our present from the prison of our past.

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(1) “Five Most Inescapable Prisons in the World,” Google,accessed August 18, 2018, -https://www.mazim.com/maxim-man/5-most-inescapable-prisons-world.html
(2) “Inside Americas Toughest Federal Prison,” NY Times, accessed August 18, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/3015/03/29/magazine/inside-americas-toughest-federal-prison.html
(3)“Fast Facts Supermax Prison,” FoxNews, accessed August 18, 2018, https//www.foxnews.com/story/2006/05/04/fast-facts-supermax-prison.html

(4) Walter C. Kaiser, Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, Manfred T, Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible, (Downers Grove:InterVarsity Press, 1996), Deuteronomy 24:16.
(5) Gary M Burge, Jesus The Middle Eastern Storyteller,(Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2009),p.72

Continue reading “Released from the Prison of Our Past”

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.

Why Should We Be Good?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew recorded Jesus’ comments on the subject of rewards:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several points come from Stanley’s observations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2017

 

Staying in Step

When I was a growing up one of our family traditions was to vacation in South Lake Tahoe in the Summer. We would stay for a week or or two in a small two bedroom house that my parents would rent from a friend.

During our stay one of our favorite activities was to visit the beach. The beaches on South Shore at Lake Tahoe are beautiful, the coarse tan colored granite sand is warm and doesn’t blow in your eyes, and there are plenty of places for a kid to run and have fun.

The shoreline itself has a very gradual drop off which allowed us kids to wade and play with our inner-tubes and float toys in relative safety. Given it was a lake, we were also absent strong currents and large waves. Of course my parents always kept a watchful eye on us and didn’t allow us to wade out further than we could stand.

The snow pack fed water itself is cold and crystal clear. It remains cold even on the hottest of Summer days.

As a kid I remember that it was a process to initially get into the water and get comfortable with the cold.The warm sand would feel so nice and toasty on our feet and taking that first step in the water was a real eye opener. But we gradually would wade in, and and the longer we remained in the water the more we grew accustomed to its very cold nature. Soon we would find ourselves swimming, splashing, and snorkeling looking for whatever would catch our eye, completely oblivious to the cold water and the potential dangers of hypothermia.

Thankfully my parents recognized the importance for us to get out of the water and warm up periodically. Usually after about thirty minutes or so they would call us out of the water and have us sit on our beach towels in the warm sand and get warmed up again.

At times we would practically be blue and freezing and yet we would insist through our chattering teeth that we weren’t cold and “could we pleeeessse stay in the water a little bit longer? “

Like my parents, my Heavenly Father loves me and wants the very best for my life. He wants me to live my life in a way that will maximize my relationship with him and allow me to receive His many blessings and gifts. His Word is our guide and helps us to discern how to make wise choices and how to avoid poor or even dangerous choices in our lives.

I was thinking the other day about how easy it is to gradually fall into ways of thinking and living that God desires to protect us from. Thankfully, God has provided us with direction and guidelines in the scriptures for how we as believers should live out our lives in a way that is consistent with God’s nature while promoting health and well being.

In the end, life is a balancing act; on the one hand we are to live in this world and engage authentically as believers, but at the same time we must guard our spirit to live out our lives in ways that are pleasing to God.

The following passage from the Psalms caught my eye because it not only illustrated so well the ease by which we can get out of step with God, but it also prescribed the means by which we can stay in step with God and be sensitive to His direction in our everyday lives.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2 ESV)

If we look carefully at this passage we can see a progression that the Psalmist is attempting to warn us about. In our pluralistic culture today, it’s easy to shift from viewing life through the lens of God to viewing life from the lens of those around us who may not even know or value God.

As we read this passage from the Psalms observe the progression of movement away from God as three steps:

1. “counsel of the wicked”
2. “stands in the way of sinners”
3. “sits in the seat of scoffers”

Lets take a look a the progression of each one of these steps.

“Counsel of the wicked”

Here the term “wicked” speaks directly to those that are ungodly. In other words those that either don’t know God or are actively opposed to God.

We are constantly bombarded with counsel from those who have no place for God in their lives. We receive such counsel through personal conversations with non-believers, magazines, social media, email, television shows, movies, news channels, schools and universities, and even well meaning but misguided or ignorant fellow believers.

How many of us have had the experience of receiving advice or accepting a perspective on a topic without having taken the time in our busy lives to test the validity of the idea being shared with us.

Many pop cultural ideas are simply caught and brought without a second thought. They seem to make sense of the surface, they fit our cultural norms and are politically correct. But perhaps they’re really not what they seem if we dig a bit further.

It’s amazing how group think can give validity to an idea, and once it gets going it takes on a life of its own. No one stops to think and say “hey…does this really make sense?”

To put this in real down to earth practical terms let me share with you the following true story.

I had an acquaintance of mine that was very well educated, a believer and a real all around nice guy. But he had one weakness…he loved the idea of getting rich quick and making a fast buck.

Some years ago he invested money in a financial organization that was making consistently above average returns. These were substantial returns, one that common sense should have sounded on as being suspicions.

But a combination of relying upon himself, pride, and failing to take a moment and really seek out God on the wisdom of this investment, all came back to haunt him a couple of years later when the investment went belly up. He lost most of his life savings. It turned out the investment was a classic Ponzi scheme.

By the way, none of us are immune to such things, that’s why it is so important to stick close to the Lord. We must be constantly alert and pay close attention to ideas and who they come from. Lets face it, many people in this world do not know the Lord, and in fact, many actively oppose God whenever they have an opportunity to do so. It’s really up to us as believers to take that extra step and seek out God’s wisdom.

Don’t just accept an idea or a proposal as true, no matter how popular the belief in this idea might be without first slowing down, praying about it, and asking God to show you if the idea or proposal makes good sense.

If you think this is a new issue, think again. There was a was a time in our world history where people universally believed that the Earth was flat and that if one sailed long enough they would simply sail off the end and fall into oblivion.

Popularity or social acceptance of an idea does not make and idea true. It’s got to be backed up by something. Ask the Lord to reveal to you through his word, through the Holy Spirit, and through the counsel of Godly men and women if an idea should be embraced as true.

“stands in the way of sinners”

The word “way” might be better translated from the Hebrew as “in the manner of” or “to be like” something or someone in our actions.

At this point the Psalmist moves us a little deeper into the water that takes us further from God.

It’s one thing to listen and act on advice that is in opposition to God, but yet another to adopt a way of life or follow a life pattern of someone other than our Lord Jesus.

I have always found it interesting that there are times I will encounter a person who claims to have a personal relationship with Jesus, but when I see their life choices, it’s clear that they’re not modeling them after the things that God desires for his children.

In fact I have met a number of people for which I would never have known they attended church or had any affiliation with God had they not said so directly to me. There was nothing in their actions or views that suggested to me of an existing relationship with God.

I once knew a salesman who worked for a company that sold equipment to a variety of customers. I personally had a very hard time relating to him because he was rather offensive, often making inappropriate and off-color jokes and comments about others. He frequently would use God’s name in vain in his conversations as though he where just talking about the weather. Nonetheless I would live out my life as authentically as possible doing my best to represent the Lord. One day the Lord opened up an opportunity to share about spiritual matters. You can imagine the shock I had when he shared at one point in our conversation that he was a member of a particular church and considered himself as someone who believed in Christ.

His lifestyle would never have testified to me in supporting his claim to be a follower of Jesus. We can’t live in both worlds; either we love the Lord or we don’t. Jesus said that if we love Him we would keep his commandments.  (John 14:15)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, ESV)
The only model we should ever rely upon for our lives is Jesus. We should never look to others to modeling our lives after.

“sits in the seat of scoffers”

A scoffer is one who derides or mocks another for what they believe or value.

When we look at the term “scoffer” we see a person that has become proud in themselves and in their way of thinking.

To “sit in the seat” suggests a person that has now fully and intentionally aligned, adopted, and is prepared to defend a life that in is opposition to what God values. Even to the extent of mocking fellow believers.

This person has been “taken captive” by the values of the world around us. Paul, in a letter to the church in Colossi, which was directed to believers and followers of Christ, said the following:

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, ESV)

Here he’s warning us that even as believers we are susceptible to being taken captive. We must always be on guard.

Paul reminds us that as we live out our lives, that we remember we are in effect a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. When we live in this way we are actually expressing our love and worship for our Heavenly Father.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  (Romans 12:1, ESV)

In what way can we learn how to live our lives in a manner that is acceptable to God?

The Psalmist gives is a couple of clues:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”  (Psalm 1:1-2 ESV)

1. Delight in the Law of the Lord

2. Meditates day and night

Delight in the Law of the Lord:

The “Law of the Lord” speaks of the teachings or instructions from God. Psalm 119 makes it clear that the Law refers to the whole truth of God and is not limited to just the literal ten commandments.

The scriptures are not so much a book of rules, rather they teach the principles of God’s word. We see some of these principles expressed in many of the parables that Jesus shared to the early believers.

For example, Luke recorded that Jesus taught the principle of prayer and the relational nature of prayer and the importance of our attitude when we pray. He concluded this parable in Luke 18:1-14, ESV.

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14, ESV)

The principle being taught here is one of humility before God when we pray. We can apply this in our own lives as we approach God in prayer.

When you and I are seeking advice and counsel on any matter, our backdrop needs to be the scriptures and God’s teachings. It doesn’t mean that we should never consider advice from non-believers, but when faced with a decision as to whether to follow such advice, we should consider whether or not we are acting consistently with God’s character in mind.

I deal with many different professionals in my life as many of you may as well. Contractors, doctors, car mechanics, CPA’s, lawyers etc. These folks are very competent in their area of expertise and yet they’re not necessarily all believers. My goal in this life is not to isolate myself from people in our world, after all Jesus certainly didn’t, but to engage the world around us in Truth. God’s Truth. In the process of obtaining professional advice, we’re not to adopt or follow such advice if it is inconsistent with the principles taught in the scriptures.

For example, suppose my CPA advised me to do something a little on the grey side on my taxes so that I could save some money, like pad my donations to make them slightly larger than they really were. If the dollar amount was small, the likelihood would be that if I fudged this a little no one would ever really find out. But in light of the scriptures I would know that in effect I’m stealing.

The Lord knows our hearts. We might be able to hide something from others, but not from the Lord.

“O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.”  (Psalm 69:5 ESV)

Violating God’s principles have an extended impact on those around us. By ignoring God’s counsel we compromise the integrity of our witness to others.

What will my CPA think of me now? How will he see me as being anything different than the ungodly? In fact, my refusal to “pad my donations” would itself offer a point of conversation about Jesus. All of that would be missed if I allowed myself to violate God’s principles on stealing by taking the advice to pad my donations.

“Delight”

But we’re to do more than simply learn about God’s teachings, the scripture says we should actually “delight” in the teachings of God.  God’s word should be something we actively seek and want to read and learn from.

It’s like being in love. When we’re in love we want to know about the other person; their dreams, what they think, we want know everything about them, and we want to be with them all the time. That’s the intent of this word “delight” in this passage.

It seems then that if we delight or take pleasure in God’s instruction from the scriptures, that we would also desire to think about them all the time. They should never far from our mind and heart.

“Meditating Day and Night”

The second element of wisdom that the psalmist provides us with is this idea of meditating on God’s word day and night. In other words, we are to constantly keep God’s principles and his word in mind as we go throughout our day. There’s never a time when we shouldn’t think about how life’s choices play in terms of God’s word.

Personally, I enjoy reading and studying God’s word. It’s a joy for which I can find no equal. I am no scholar for sure, but God has provided me with wisdom in many challenging situations in my life. Sometimes I have wondered off the path and taken advice without testing it against God’s word, and when I do I’m quickly corrected.

I trust the Lord, but I’m also a weak human and capable of making poor choices. I’m certainly not above having made my share of mistakes and I know I will make many more before this life is done. But by the grace of God I pray that I will always take the time to seek His face when making choices. I pray that I seek His word and guidance so that all that I say, think, and do will honor His name.

I pray the same for each of you today.