March 8, 2014

Rethinking My Purpose


Yesterday was a good day at school. I had two groups of students give oral presentations. Both did fine. It was enjoyable to have them teach the class rather than me, and I was glad they did such a thorough job on the assignment. The rest of my time was OK. I cannot help but think that I am not good at teaching. I am filled with doubt about my abilities, and I constantly stick my foot in my mouth. I feel like I don't know my subject well, and my students seem to be disconnected from my interaction. Perhaps it is just the way these students are, or their age, or the culture. I don't know, but I am seriously considering my purpose as a teacher.

I started to think about this yesterday on the drive home from GCU. I questioned the Lord about it, asking Him why I feel this way. It is a weird thing because I feel like a failure every class, and yet, when I think about doing something else, nothing comes to mind. I feel like I have done it all, I have tried different types of work, and I don't like any of them. Then there is this sense that I am at peace. I cannot really explain it, it is just this abiding peace about everything right now. I don't have enough money, but I have peace. I don't have satisfaction in my job, but I have peace. I don't have confirmation on a full-time job, but I have peace.

Peace is a good thing, right? Peace tells you that you are where you belong, and that you are well-covered. So why am I struggling against the Lord's peace? I mean, after all, shouldn't you be happy and content when you have peace? Most people would agree that peace is a good thing, and most people would say that they seek for peace all the time. So I have it, but I am unhappy about my life, my circumstances, my situation. What is wrong with this picture, eh?

So what is Peace? According to the world, there are many different definitions of this word from cessation of war to general harmony between people groups. I chose this as the definition that I think fits the worldly sense of what it means to be at peace, to have peace as your state of being:

a state of harmony between people or groups; freedom from strife 

Biblical peace is quite different, though it does encapsulate the worldly definition to some extent. Bakers Biblical Dictionary says this:

The Meaning of Peace. In English, the word "peace" conjures up a passive picture, one showing an absence of civil disturbance or hostilities, or a personality free from internal and external strife. The biblical concept of peace is larger than that and rests heavily on the Hebrew root sim, which means "to be complete" or "to be sound." The verb conveys both a dynamic and a static meaning"to be complete or whole" or "to live well." The noun had many nuances, but can be grouped into four categories: 

(1) salom as wholeness of life or body (i.e., health); 
(2) salom as right relationship or harmony between two parties or people, often established by a covenant (see "covenant of peace" in Num 25:12-13 ; Isa 54:10 ; Ezek 34:25-26 ) and, when related to Yahweh, the covenant was renewed or maintained with a "peace offering"; 
(3) salom as prosperity, success, or fulfillment (see Lev 26:3-9 ); and 
(4) salom as victory over one's enemies or absence of war. Salom was used in both greetings and farewells. It was meant to act as a blessing on the one to whom it was spoken: "May your life be filled with health, prosperity, and victory." As an adjective, it expressed completeness and safety. 

In the New Testament, the Greek word eirene [eijrhvnh] is the word most often translated by the word "peace." Although there is some overlap in their meanings, the Hebrew word salom is broader in its usage, and, in fact, has greatly influenced the New Testament's use of eirene.

Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/peace.html 

In context we see that Biblical peace is encompassing a state of being far deeper than a cessation of hostilities or harmony between people. It is a measure of soundness, of wellness, and of whole body/mind/soul well-being. Additionally, it is an assurance of the covenant between God and man, and it is a promise of prosperity, success and fulfillment. In this manner, Peace covers you in more than just inward/outward ways. It serves to provide a wholeness that centers your person, informs your views, and regulates your days. It gives you comfort to know that you are well with God, well with man (as far as it concerns you), and well with the plans God has for your life.

Within this definition there are two ideas that need further clarification. One is success and the other is prosperity. Merriam-Webster defines success as:
  1. the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame
  2. the correct or desired result of an attempt
  3. someone or something that is successful : a person or thing that succeeds
Popular culture gives opinions on what success and prosperity measure to by modern standards, and I think most would agree that the World encourages success through the acquisition of things (money, power or position). 

Baker identifies "success" under the banner of Blessing:

God's intention and desire to bless humanity is a central focus of his covenant relationships. For this reason, the concept of blessing pervades the biblical record. Two distinct ideas are present. First, a blessing was a public declaration of a favored status with God. Second, the blessing endowed power for prosperity and success. In all cases, the blessing served as a guide and motivation to pursue a course of life within the blessing.

To consider this idea further, it is important to understand what prosperity means from a Biblical viewpoint. There is a group within the Church that preaches financial success and prosperity almost from the standpoint that God desires His people to be wealthy. There are other groups that preach against that citing that it is not the norm for God's people to be wealthy and that Jesus' teachings in the NT are more valid than the Covenantal teachings found in the OT.

I have struggled with the "wealth and prosperity" teaching for a long time. Perhaps it was because I lived as a poor person, by choice and by sin, and I believed that wealth was for some, but not for all believers.

In reading Bakers on the subject of prosperity, it is clear that God used wealth as a sign of blessing to the people of the OT. Moreover, God's design for wealth was tied to the land and to the Temple. God designed wealth as a means for sharing His Goodness with others. In the NT, we see the early church pick up this same idea when they sell their possessions and distribute the money to those that have need. The idea here is that God blesses us financially for one purpose: to see to the needs of His people. We are blessed with wealth to not only take care of our own families, but to care for the family of God. In this way, we serve to share the blessing of God with others.

Bakers says this about prosperity:

The Old Testament recognizes wealth as often a blessing from God. But frequently that wealth is tied up with the land or the temple in ways that do not carry over into a New Testament age that knows no one sacred piece of geography or architecture ( John 4:24 ). Even in the Old Testament, the Israelites' wealth was meant to be shared, with the poor in the land and with Gentiles outside, so as to bring people to a knowledge of the Lord. Increased privilege carries increased responsibility. Governments and economic institutions today are not theocracies, but they may still be judged on how they meet the needs of the powerless and dispossessed.

What I have learned from this quick word study is that God blesses us with peace, and He gives us course of life within His blessing. This means that God does have a specific plan for each of our lives and that we come to know that plan once we are in covenant with Him. It is part of His promise to us. We agree with Him, we covenant with Him, and in return there is blessing. This blessing includes: peace, success and prosperity.

Therefore, to have His peace we must accept His covenant. Covenant refers to:

The term "covenant" is of Latin origin (con venire), meaning a coming together. It presupposes two or more parties who come together to make a contract, agreeing on promises, stipulations, privileges, and responsibilities. In religious and theological circles there has not been agreement on precisely what is to be understood by the biblical term. It is used variously in biblical contexts. In political situations, it can be translated treaty; in a social setting, it means a lifelong friendship agreement; or it can refer to a marriage.

Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/covenant.html

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are keepers of the Covenant of Grace. We are no longer under the obligation of the law, but live in freedom under Grace. However, the covenant of God does have stipulations that are required for use to partake of God's promise.

Parties: The parties to this covenant of grace are God and the people whom he will redeem. But in this case Christ fulfills a special role as “mediator” (Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24) in which he fulfills the conditions of the covenant for us and thereby reconciles us to God. (There was no mediator between God and man in the covenant of works.)

Conditions: The condition (or requirement) of participation in the covenant is faith in the work of Christ the redeemer (Rom. 1:17; 5:1; et al.). This requirement of faith in the redemptive work of the Messiah was also the condition of obtaining the blessings of the covenant in the Old Testament, as Paul clearly demonstrates through the examples of Abraham and David (Rom. 4:1–15). They, like other Old Testament believers, were saved by looking forward to the work of the Messiah who was to come and putting faith in him.4

But while the condition of beginning the covenant of grace is always faith in Christ’s work alone, the condition of continuing in that covenant is said to be obedience to God’s commands. Though this obedience did not in the Old Testament and does not in the New Testament earn us any merit with God, nonetheless, if our faith in Christ is genuine, it will produce obedience (see James 2:17), and obedience to Christ is in the New Testament seen as necessary evidence that we are truly believers and members of the new covenant (see 1 John 2:4–6).

Promises: The promise of blessings in the covenant was a promise of eternal life with God. This promise was repeated frequently throughout the Old and the New Testaments. God promised that he would be their God and that they would be his people. “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you” (Gen. 17:7). “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33). “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God...I will make with them an everlasting covenant” (Jer. 32:38–40; cf. Ezek. 34:30–31; 36:28; 37:26–27). That theme is picked up in the New Testament as well: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor. 6:16; cf. a similar theme in vv. 17–18; also 1 Peter 2:9–10). In speaking of the new covenant, the author of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Heb. 8:10). This blessing finds fulfillment in the church, which is the people of God, but it finds its greatest fulfillment in the new heaven and new earth, as John sees in his vision of the age to come: “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them” (Rev. 21:3).

Sign: The sign of this covenant (the outward, physical symbol of inclusion in the covenant) varies between the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old Testament the outward sign of beginning the covenant relationship was circumcision. The sign of continuing the covenant relationship was continuing to observe all the festivals and ceremonial laws that God gave the people at various times. In the new covenant, the sign of beginning a covenant relationship is baptism, while the sign of continuing in that relationship is participation in the Lord’s Supper.

The reason this covenant is called a “covenant of grace” is that it is entirely based on God’s “grace” or unmerited favor toward those whom he redeems.

Source: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/covenants.html

Does God make covenants with individuals like He did with Adam, Noah, Abraham, David and the prophets?

If God is a Covenant making and keeping God, and if He has demonstrated His relationship through Covenant agreements in the past, than I believe that He still does make covenants with individuals now. I believe that God does enter into covenants with individuals based on the individuals obedience to God's call on their life. I believe these sub-covenants are part of the overarching Covenant of works, redemption, and grace. These covenants are agreements between God and man and are specific to the work that God is asking the individual to do on His behalf. In a way, they are promises to individuals that encourage obedience, faith and trust in God for the provision and ability to accomplish the work God has in mind for them to do. They do not replace any of the established Biblical covenants, they simply operate under the blessing that comes from the covenant of Grace.

As I consider my life and my purpose, I am now faced with a decision. Do I believe what God is saying to me, about my purpose, about His plans for my life, and about His determination on where I will go, and what I will do? If so, then my end of the covenantal relationship is upheld. God never changes His mind, and He never abandons His promises. This means that it is up to me to choose to obey, to believe, and to trust that what He has promised, He will surely fulfill.

Dear Lord,

Thank you for taking the time to help me understand that the promises you have made to me are assured. They are part of your covenantal agreement predicated upon my agreement to obey you and follow after you. I understand now that you have given me special blessing and favor and as such I am under no obligation to keep my end of the agreement. However, if I do, then I will receive the promised blessing. If I do not, then I will receive nothing. I am under your covenant of Grace, and I am set free. However, you have promised many things to me, to help me accomplish your will, your purpose, and the plans you have laid out for me to fulfill. I must remain in faith, in belief, and in trust. I must choose to be faithful to you, to obey your Word, and to follow after you. It is difficult to explain, and for some, it may seem ludicrous to think this way. But I know what I know, and I have seen your blessing poured out on my life. I am experiencing something vital, new, and exciting. Yes, I doubt. Yes, I fear. Yes, I want to run away and hide at times. Yet, you remain faithful to me. You are stalwart. You never move. I am blessed to be in relationship with you, and to know that all my struggles are human. They are not representative of your greatness or your goodness. They are my futile attempts to understand something that is beyond understanding. Therefore, Lord, I recommit my way to you this day. I let go of these feelings, which are nothing, and I choose to be faithful to you, to believe your Word, to trust in your Character and Nature, and to accept the blessings and favor you have given to me. I humbly confess that I have sought my own way, desired my own understanding, and as a result, I have become focused on the dirt and the ground, and not on who you are and what you are doing in me and through me for your Name, your Honor, and your Praise. Thank you, Lord, for your grace and compassion. Thank you for helping me to understand your way. In Jesus' Name I pray this now, Amen. So be it, thy will be done. Selah!

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