Measuring Our Worth

According to a National Geographic Magazine article entitled “Fly Like a Fly“,  by Joel Achenbach, (1) the common and often irritating housefly is a marvel of insect engineering.

Achenbach shared that evidently the fly is superior even to birds, bees, and bats when it comes to acrobatic capabilities. Did you know that a typical fly can fly straight up, hover, fly backwards, perform somersaults, and then land on the ceiling? Not only can they perform amazing feats of acrobatics, but scientists have further discovered that nearly two-thirds of a typical housefly’s entire nervous system is dedicated to the processing of visual imagery. This coupled with their large compound eyes, gives the housefly the capacity to perceive full panoramic imagery and makes them especially adept at detecting motion. (Probably why many a fly has escaped my efforts with the flyswatter.)  When God designed the fly, a lot of attention to detail went into His effort.

Knowing this, can you imagine for a moment how much more God loves us, his crowning achievement, given the amazing design effort he put forth for the fly?

How do we evaluate our worth? I admit that there are days where I feel like I don’t even measure up to the humble housefly.

Thankfully our worth is actually known. Dr. Ken Boa noted that scriptures tell us that our worth is “determined by what Christ was willing to do for us” (2) rather than what we can do for Christ. In today’s cultural climate, our sense of worth is often distorted because our culture frequently links self-worth to our life’s accomplishments, finances, our popularity, political views, talents etc.

There are times along life’s journey where I feel very much like I have not done all that I could have done. I look at so many of my friends, family, co-workers, and others that have done such great things in their lives. Yet by comparison, my few contributions don’t seem to have even nudged the needle in life.

At one point in my life, I reflected upon all of this and realized that I have no great stories to tell, I’m not a hero, I’m not particularly intelligent, nor do I poses any special gifts in music or other talents. I’m just an average everyday kind of person slugging through life. It was rather humbling and even discouraging to consider.

In the midst of this disheartening self-evaluation of my life, God reminded me of how much I am cherished. The scriptures say that “…we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”(3) We are loved by God, a God that is rich in his mercies and loves us so much that he has given us eternal life through the work of his son Jesus.

There may be times when I “feel” like I don’t measure up to my ideas about my life, and when that happens, I’ve found that I need to recall that God does not ask me to base my relationship and eternal worth on my feelings, rather he asks me to trust Him and respond to him in faith. Because of his grace we are elevated, adopted into God’s family and have a seat at the table of the King.  (Romans 8:15) All of this is possible because of the work of Christ on the cross and not by anything I could possibly have done on my own. (Ephesians 2:9)

A dear pastor friend of mine once shared a sermon that included the passage from Ephesians 2:7, which speaks of God’s desire to pour out his continued blessings in our lives.(4) In his sermon, he spoke of how God’s kindness and love towards us is so great and so vast that the gifts he desires to give us will take “ages” for God to fullfill.(5)

Not only does God pour out His blessings upon us, but with these blessings he gives us purpose in our lives. Our purposes are unique to who we are and to what it is that God desires for us to do in his kingdom.

The Apostle Paul reminded me that some have greater more visible roles than others, yet all are needed in God’s kingdom. (Romans 12:5) What I have learned is that my worth isn’t in what I do, it’s in how I respond in faith to the assignment God desires for me to do. God doesn’t ask me to pre-approve his assignment for me, he simply hands me my assignment. It’s up to me to decide if I accept the assignment in faith, trusting that God has a greater and grander purpose in why he chose that particular assignment for me.

Each of us has an important part to play in God’s Kingdom. We are each given  a variety assignments over the course of our earthly lifetimes, each designed to uniquely contribute to God’s purposes. We may never know on this side of heaven the exact purpose of our assignment, but to reject such an assignment is to reject the blessings that God will give us for our faithfulness.

One assignment that never changes is the assignment to understand and place first in our lives our relationship with Christ. We need to know Christ, we need to know his heart, we need to accept his love and forgiveness in our lives. We need to spend time in his word, in prayer, and in so doing magnify his love in our lives while learning to recognize and hear his voice. (1 Kings 19:12, John 10:3)

The trouble I sometimes face is that I have in mind what I would like my assignments to look like. Our views to this end are often influenced by our emotions and the need for recognition we feel like we deserve. The truth is we don’t deserve anything but separation from God, yet he still pursued us with his everlasting love. (Romans 5:8, John 3:16-17)

To be clear, not everyone will receive an assignment that puts them in the limelight or gives them a sense of continued worth and value from those around us. In fact, most assignments in this life will be humble but critical ones. If we seek to be like Jesus we should be aware of the virtues God values, and God values humility over pride. (Proverbs 8:13, Matthew 18:4)

When our focus shifts away from serving our Lord, when we allow pride to enter into to the equation,we will start to feel like what we are doing is not important, or fails to give me the recognition I feel I deserve, it’s then that our joy will be gone, our hearts will be barren, and what we do will become hollow. In this state we become distant from our Lord and that distance hinders our ability to hear God, which in turn hurts the body of Christ.

In the scriptures, the apostle Paul illustrated the critical nature of our assignments by comparing our assignments to that of the human body. No part of the human body is useless, all parts, no matter how humble or visible, serve critical roles to ensure the health of the body. (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)

Likewise we see this illustration extended when we speak of all believers throughout the world as the body of Christ. We each have roles or assignments that God has given to us. God is not frivolous nor operates without purpose, each assignment given is critical.

Perhaps some get the assignment to be the beautiful voice that will sing songs of worship or preach, perhaps others will serve quietly and faithfully functioning day after day behind the scenes of life, thus enabling the voice of the body to do its role for the whole of the body. Like the human body, the reality is that most of what goes on in the body of Christ is more invisible than visible, but no less critical.

When we speak of the body of Christ and our roles, we speak of our function within God’s kingdom as a whole. His kingdom is here and now, it’s where we worship, live, and work. Don’t ever be discouraged by your assignment, but rather carry out your assignment faithfully. Doing so will have the effect of building up the body of Christ.

Perhaps your assignment is to be a faithful parent to your children, to do the chores in the home God has given you, to care for an elderly parent, to be the heart of Jesus to people in your workplace or school, to deal with the harsh aspects of a fallen humanity in some form of public service. Perhaps it’s to empty out the trash at church, to wash the floors, or to mow the lawns.

Remember, it’s not about achieving recognition in the eyes of others, nor is it doing something to make me feel good inside. It’s about being faithful in the assignment God has given us, even when we don’t get encouraging feedback from the people around us.

Our true worth can be measured by the faith we extend to God as we live out our assignments faithfully. Recognize that no other creature in God’s creation have been given the privilege nor the capacity to express the love of Christ to the world at large except us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(1)Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008), 51–52.

(2) Kenneth Boa, Handbook to Spiritual Growth: Twelve Facets of the Spiritual Life (Atlanta, GA: Trinity House Publishers, Inc., 2008), 140.

(3) The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Eph 2:10.

(4) The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Eph 2:7.

(5) “God’s plans to showers us with kindness,” Tom Marcum Sermon Notes (November 8, 2015)

 

Differing Measures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ship was built lopsided.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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