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.

Overcoming the Pack

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16)

Wolves succeed in part because they hunt in numbers. They surround, overwhelm, and overpower their prey. It’s one thing to deal with a lone wolf, but altogether a different matter when it comes to dealing with an entire pack of wolves.

Jesus recognized that in many ways, as his disciples went out to share the wonderful message of the Gospel, they too would be venturing out as sheep among wolves. The Gospel message is all about bringing humanity into a personal relationship with God, but it was being presented to a world of people longing for hope, but often attempting to secure it on their own without the power God.

The disciples were few and the culture of their day hosted many different philosophies, religious, and even governments that not only rejected the message of the gospel, but actively sought to harm the messengers, the disciples themselves. Clearly the disciples would be more than outnumbered. It was within this context that Jesus shared with them that what they were about to undertake, would be akin to sending defenseless sheep into the face of a pack of wolves. It would take divine wisdom, trust, and reliance upon God, for the disciples to navigate in such a hostile environment.

Some years ago, I saw a nature show that tracked the exploits of a wildlife photographer and the challenges he had in obtaining video and pictures of wildlife in their natural habitats.

It had been a long week in the woods for the photographer, and he had yet to catch any decent video or pictures. At one point, on his last day out in the woods, he climbed high upon a rocky outcropping, and found himself overlooking a large valley that led to a huge lake at one end. Much of the valley floor was covered in an immense green meadow ringed by tall aspens, whose leaves shimmered with the gentle movement of the afternoon breeze.

It was from this position that he unexpectedly heard the sound of brush being crushed down, and the din of many feet, moving quickly and with purpose.

That’s when he saw the lone deer emerge from the woods, panting heavily. The deer paused for a moment, and then ran across the open meadow for all he was worth.

Moments later, with camera running, the photographer captured the remarkable images of a pack of wolves breaking out of the tree line into the meadow in pursuit of their prey. The exhausted deer continued to run across the meadow, but the wolves paced themselves; the deer was tiring. They sensed the end was near.

The wolves had hunted together many times, and at this point in the hunt, they knew the key was to entrap the deer, to completely overwhelm him. The wolves fell into a half-moon formation to prevent the deer from outflanking them, to drive the animal straight ahead along the shore of the lake. They had been relentless in their pursuit. No amount of effort on the part of the deer seemed to have allowed him to elude these seemingly tireless hunters.

********

In another part of the world, a different drama was unfolding. United States Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady, had just completed the final pre-flight check of his F16 fighter jet. Moments later, he took off from the Aviano Airbase in Italy, serving as wing-man for his friend Captain Bob Wright.

The pair were on a mission to enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina. They were part of a broader NATO operation to prevent the warring factions from using their military aircraft against one another.

Unbeknownst to either pilot, one of the factions, the Serbs, had secretly moved a surface-to-air missile launcher into position to attack NATO fighter jets. The Serbs had observed that the fighters followed a predictable route and schedule; this routine had made the fighter jets vulnerable to attack.

Low cloud cover prevailed that day, as the fighters flew their route at 26,000 feet. The largely routine patrol was abruptly interrupted, when O’Grady’s on-board warning system told him they had been fired upon by surface to air missiles, but due to deep cloud cover below the aircraft, the pilots were unable to visually see the missiles in time to completely avoid them.

The first missile blew up harmlessly between both aircraft, missing their intended targets. However, the second missile hit O’Grady’s fighter with such force, that it blew his aircraft into two pieces. Both parts of the flaming aircraft plummeted towards the earth on a five-mile decent to the surface below. As Captain Wright looked helplessly on; the flaming aircraft parts were quickly swallowed into the clouds and disappeared from sight; he never saw a parachute deploy from O’Grady’s aircraft.

Within hours of the crash, William O’Grady, Scott’s dad, was contacted by the military. They shared the sad news that his son had been shot down, and that they had no indication that he had escaped from his burning aircraft.

Six days later, William O’Grady received a phone call from the military, instructing him that he was to receive an official message that could only be delivered in person. He feared the worst, he had known that the type of career Scott had chosen was inherently dangerous, he braced himself for the news he anticipated he was going to receive.

A short while later, a government car arrived at his home, and three blue uniforms emerged; one of the officers wore a chaplain’s cross on his collar.

********

Our world is filled with risks and dangers. Jesus recognized this when he sent the twelve disciples on their mission to share the Gospel to a world that needed Christ desperately.

While the dangers we face in our lives may not be as literal as wolves or missiles, they can still do great and lasting harm.

One of the trends observed of our country, has been a societal movement towards becoming increasingly cynical.

Paul Miller, author of “A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World,” suggested that in recent times, our country has moved from viewing life from an optimistic perspective, to a more cynical point of view.


“Cynics imagine they are disinterested observers on a quest for authenticity. They assume they are humble because they offer nothing. In fact, they feel deeply superior because they think they see through everything. C. S. Lewis pointed out that if you see through everything, you eventually see nothing.” (Miller, p.91)

He shared that bitterness is the “stepchild of cynicism. “

It’s no surprise that society has gravitated towards this viewpoint of life. Daily we are faced with a constant deluge of negative news, news that has the potential to dampen our spirit and move us towards the slope of cynicism. It’s an easy step to take, but a dangerous place to live.

If the pressures aren’t bad enough for the average person, there are those whose daily jobs expose them on a regular basis, to the worst that our lost society has to offer.

This constant exposure can harden even the strongest of hearts and make us cynical and bitter. These traits, which if left unchecked, will seep into every relationship we are engaged in. If you’re a police officer, medical emergency worker, firefighter, solider, or have some other job that constantly and deeply exposes you to the harshest circumstances that this world can dish out, then you are especially at risk for falling into the spiral of cynicism and bitterness.

Cynicism, it’s a predator, a wolf that will never be satisfied, it has an appetite that’s endless. Our world can and will feed it relentlessly. It has the potential to bring incredible harm to those relationships that we are called to guard and cherish the most. Our husbands, wives, children, our Lord Jesus Christ, these are the critical relationships that we must protect.

Like the deer, endlessly pursued by the pack of wolves, the solution to living in this world exists outside of us. The only hope we have is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There are times when we feel helpless and hopeless that God will knock on the door of our hearts. But he will not enter unless you open the door and invite Him in. The answers can be right in front of us, but in the moment, we might not choose to acknowledge God’s desire to be the way out. Perhaps at times we allow our pride to get in the way of the still and quiet voice of our Lord as he calls out to us, and we miss His invitation.

Jesus spoke of the snake as being shrewd. In this case, shrewd referred to the wisdom he called the disciples to exercise. Wisdom to help them anticipate and manage the dangers they were certain to face in this life.

********


As I continued to watch the video of the deer being pursued by the pack of determined wolves, I begin to perceived that the deer recognized his situation for what it was.

The wolves were trying to run him to the edge of a lake and trap him. But as they closed in for the final chapter, the wearied deer suddenly stopped running, as if to take one last stand before succumbing to his hunters.

My heart stopped, I know wolves have to eat, but I really didn’t want to watch what was about to unfold. I started to reach for the channel changer, but before I could, I saw the deer glance at the lake, and then crouch for a moment before springing a jump that landed him far from the shoreline into the water. He started to swim with a renewed level of determination, wisely, not parallel along the shore of the lake, where he might tire and die, rather straight across the lake towards the other side, a distance of nearly a mile or so.

The wolves were completely caught off guard by this unexpected tactic, and not being that confident, or willing swimmers themselves, they only ventured a short distance into the water in pursuit of the deer before turning back. They were left to pace back and forth along the shore as they watched the deer swim away.

In the end, the deer made it across to the other shore, climbed out of the lake, shook off the water from its brown coat, took one look back towards the opposite shore, where the wolves remained, and bounded into the woods to safety.

********

The three blue uniforms that emerged from the car, including the chaplain, came not to deliver news of Scott O’Grady’s demise, rather to deliver amazing news to William O’Grady, of his son’s incredible story of survival, and ultimate rescue.

Evidently, Captain O’Grady, after plummeting into the clouds, had been able to eject from the flaming wreckage of his F16 fighter jet. He suffered minor burns in the process, but was able to parachute into hostile territory successfully.

As he floated down from the sky, he could see a convoy of trucks carrying troop’s, intent on his capture, driving on the roads below him. He landed near some woods several hundred yards from the road where the trucks had stopped, and deposited their complement of troops.

As he broke free from his chute harness, he could hear the many soldiers moving in his direction. They knew where he had landed. He was emotionally exhausted, and physically spent. He prayed. He ran a short distance into the brush and realized he would never be able to outrun the hunters. He quickly dodged into some brush, curled up into a ball with his face down, using his camouflaged gloves; he covered his ears and the back of his neck. He froze and silently prayed.

The searchers came within feet of him, but miraculously, during the next several hours never saw him. They had even brought in search helicopters. He remained in his frozen state until nightfall. Then with great caution, he started a slow nightly journey towards a distant hill that offered a possibility for a rescue by helicopter.

For the next six days, he endured a relentless search by enemy soldiers. During this time he maintained radio silence to avoid capture. He had been trained to delay using his emergency radio right away, as historically, pilots that failed to do so, were often captured, as their radio signals often gave their position away to the enemy searchers.

During the six days on the run there were many close calls, but in the end, he was able to communicate with his rescuers using a quick radio transmission. His friends and colleagues were absolutely shocked to hear his quiet voice over the radio after having heard nothing for days. Immediately, after learning of his survival, a  daring rescue operation was set in motion.

The entire operation involved two contingents of U.S. Marines, Navy ships, and some forty support aircraft. The rescue itself was a harrowing experience for everyone involved. Shortly after landing and pulling O’Grady in, the massive Sea Stallion rescue helicopters lifted off and immediately came under intense fire from both small arms and shoulder launched anti-aircraft missiles. The helicopter pilots executed several trained evasion maneuvers to avoid the missiles, while door gunners returned fire to the ground. After a forty-five minute flight they touched down on a U.S. Navy Ship. O’Grady was safe.

The night William O’Grady was notified of his son’s dramatic rescue, he was able to see Scott on TV, looking weary, but healthy. It was a night in which he gave a very special thanks to God.

As for Captain Scott O’Grady, he continued to serve his country, and returned to flying F16’s until he left the service, where upon he enrolled and completed a degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. He concluded that his survival and ability to avoid capture had been fully in God’s hands. It was God who gave him the optimism and hope to prevail in a very hopeless and difficult situation.

********

You and I face the wolves of cynicism, pride, and hopelessness every day. We can’t go it alone against such a pack. We must look outside of ourselves for our strength, wisdom, and the ability to remain optimistic. Jesus is a bright light in an already dark and evil world. It is incumbent upon us to live our lives in like manner. The One we must look to for strength is Jesus Christ. It is only from Him that we may derive our power to live our lives to the full each day, and into the dawn of eternity.

Speaking for myself, I could not imagine awaking to a day without Jesus at my side. When the Lord and I are in sync, when our relationship is healthy, then optimism and hope abound, even if there are days when I feel like I’m surrounded by a pack of wolves and can’t seem to see a way out.

Like the deer, when all seems lost, take heart, God presents a way for us. And like Captain O’Grady, we have to make a choice every day to trust Him for the moment, a hard thing if I’ve allowed cynicism to enter my life and dampen my love for Christ and my optimism for life.

But if we do choose to trust Him, then the peace of Christ will have no boundaries, as we allow His wisdom to be our guide and source of daily renewal.

Copyright FullLifeWord 2015