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'Of baboons and peace'

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid... I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have
overcome the world. -- John 14:27, 16:33

We are well acquainted with stress. Abiding peace—not so much. That’s in part why Mark spoke of the spiritual fruit of peace last Sunday. We may be so unacquainted with abiding peace that we’ve concluded it is an unrealistic condition.

Driving through Colorado last summer in an attempt to relieve some stress, my curiosity was piqued by an article by Jonah Lehrer in 'Wired' magazine about an experimental vaccine against stress.

Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist about whom we’ve written before, first noted the impact of stress on health in his observation of baboon groups in Uganda. Only much later did he find the same phenomenon occurring in humans, a finding which other scientists corroborated — and a finding from which also Lehrer developed a couple noteworthy points.

One, the effect of stress is more calamitous than we might’ve imagined, and in part due to how our bodies respond to it. Heart disease tends to
skyrocket in those with prolonged exposure to stressful situations. Neurological degeneration accelerates, too. Even children in utero demonstrate physiological changes in the brain as if they’d experienced the stressful circumstances themselves.

Though the anxieties that proceed from stress have never spawned a disease, they are to diseases what lighter fluid is to fire. Under stress, our endocrine system secretes something called glucocorticoids—a hormone salutary in the short term, but toxic if in the bloodstream for a prolonged
period. They amplify production of glucose needed for the energy to defend ourselves in stressful situations. But they also suppress the immune system, impair the production of new neural cells, and contribute to muscle deterioration if left unabated. Stress degrades even if it isn’t the foundational cause.

Secondly, Lehrer argues the more damaging consequences of stress derive from a particular source of stress. One might assume all stress was the same—all equally debilitating. Instead, Sapolsky found that not only was there a correlation between stress and health, but that the most debilitating kind of stress correlated with a sense of one’s status. Baboons low on the pecking order of their group experienced greater tribulation in securing the necessities of life, thus creating more stress for them. Those baboons tended to be sicklier. A British sociologist found similar phenomena in U.K. government employees who were rigidly stratified into “classes” according to complexity of work and the ability to control their situation. Even controlling for other variables that might account for differences in health, those at the bottom of the social scale experienced a higher mortality rate. What you believe about yourself and your condition has a profound effect, not just on your mood, but on your health.

What solution does Lehrer (and the scientists he cites) offer? Since they all submit to the notion that all things have a material cause, their remedy
is confined to the material sphere. Though human trials are years away, Sapolsky believes the most promising form of stress-relief comes with a
vaccine that would limit the effects of prolonged glucocorticoid production. Others insist the best way to reduce your stress is to improve your
station—your occupational or social status; the corresponding increase in respect and control it may afford will, they believe, resolve your anxieties.

We shouldn’t be surprised to find the effects of the fall in our physiology or in our society. Jesus was no stranger to the calamity wrought in both
those dimensions of human existence. He relieved physical suffering and overturned entrenched notions about status (cf. The Good Samaritan as one example). But, I suspect he would say to the Jonah Lehrers and Robert Sapolskys of the world that we have to go deeper than our social dynamics or our endocrine systems to address the root of our anxieties.

Say my work becomes more aligned with my uniqueness. If I find my ultimate peace in my work, haven’t I set myself up for a profound disillusionment should circumstances require me to resign from that work — whether because of loss of work, health issues, or retirement?

Or what if my glucocorticoid production comes under control such that it no longer suppresses my immune system, or degrades neuron production. Won’t at some point in life medical manipulation no longer be effective, thus forcing me to find a source of stability and peace independent of my physical condition?

Jesus’ peace goes to the heart, because our hearts were made for His peace. They need nothing less and crave nothing less. For His peace speaks to us at a level even more fundamental than our station or our cells. Jesus gives not as the world gives in part because the peace He gives does not depend on what the world provides.

Jesus’  peace  derives from His promises. That by His work we shall be eternally loved by the Father (Jn 10:27), and though we die yet shall we
live (Jn 11:25) are but two examples. Those promises endure even when our bodies refuse to cooperate with treatment or our circumstances remain intractable. There’s no harm in obtaining aid from those with aptitude in anatomy and pathology — no sin in seeking work more suitable to your design. But unless you dig for the peace that He promises and provides, you will try to satisfy your soul with what is too shallow.

You can’t tell a baboon he’s not second-class. But you can hear from God that you’re the child of a king.

Have you gotten to the root of your anxieties—whatever they may be—or are you digging too shallowly?

by Patrick Lafferty

Coach Evans hands out the hardware, gets blessing;


The Louisa United Methodist Church held an Award Ceremony for its UPWARD basketball program  Friday, March 25, 2011.

Erin Evans, League Director, conducted the ceremony. She said Upward Basketball and Cheering League is in it’s 4th year at the Church and this year was the first year of being League Director for Evans.

“Upward basketball is a Christian program with the best sports experience through devotions, prayer, and so much more," Evans said.  "Each player receives a full uniform, shirt, and CD with Bible verses.  At the closing ceremonies on March 25, the players were given their awards of sports bags and they received their team pictures.“ 

The league has 3 age divisions: 3 year old- Kindergarten, 1st-2nd, and 3rd-7th grade.  Each division had 3 teams of boys and girls for a combined total of 9 teams in the League.  There was one squad of cheerleaders that cheered for all age groups.

“This year was a huge success," Evans said. "The coaches were great and I was so proud of all of the kids and I really enjoyed refereeing the games and running the league. They learned so much about basketball and being a Christian."

Evans, who also coaches the LCHS Varsity Girls Softball team and has led them to the state tournament the past two years in a row, also had some thank-you's to hand out during the ceremony.

" I want to thank Clara Elkins, Guy Moyer, Dale Smith, Angela McGuire, Teresa Pigg, Jan Justice, Ruth Ann Smith, Molly Oberlick, and everyone from the church that helped,Evans said.  "I was so blessed to have all of these people to help me and the kids and the program.

There were so many great basketball moments on those Saturday games but most of all I was so touched when a three year old stepped up to the microphone and led the prayer. I was so blessed this year and thankful to have been a part of such a wonderful thing for our church and community.”

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. --[1]Galatians 5:25

The sketch in my kids’ scripture memory book is of a young boy running to catch up with a woman whose purse isn’t quite clasped shut. She’s inadvertently left a trail of dollars and coins strewn behind her, and the lad is carefully collecting her accidental generosity that he might return it to her.

The boy could’ve absconded with the unexpected gain, but he doesn’t. He could’ve also expected a reward for his integrity, but he doesn’t. His reward came in the form of the simple satisfaction of having done what he knew pleased God. In the divine economy, what is the greatest reward we could ever get? It’s not the material blessings God could grant us. It’s not even the eternal enjoyments He might bestow. The greatest reward we could ever have is God Himself—knowing Him, experiencing Him, resting in Him (Jer 9:23–24). He is the greatest reward because He is, by definition, the greatest thing in the universe.

To believe God is our greatest gift has an effect on how we value everything else, including what proceeds from doing His will. The kind of heart that believes God himself is our greatest gift sees nothing else as more appealing or attractive. So the child who gives the money back to the woman without expectation of reward represents the kind of heart God wants us to have: a heart which treasures God most, which is happy to do His will even if it means he will receive nothing else in return. God is His treasure.

But  wait.  Doesn’t Jesus promise rewards for obedience (Mk 10:23–31)? Doesn’t He encourage the pursuit of treasure in heaven (e.g. Mt 6:19)? That sounds like God means to incentivize us with reward. Yet we also know that Paul warns of misconstruing our salvation as a wage for service rendered (Rom  4:4). Furthermore he seems to embrace an attitude of contentment irrespective of whether God has provided for him materially (Phil 4:11). God is not our lackey; we are His servants. So how can we understand (and seek) His rewards without misconstruing them as wages? How can we bear fruit for God without reducing our obedience to a mere transaction—a favor now for a leg up later?

Last Sunday we sought to emphasize the necessity of faith in the freedom Christ fought to furnish as the foundation of all our fruit-bearing (with apologies to those with an aversion to alliteration). We said Christ has freed us from the penalty of sin, from the power of sin, but also from the compulsion to establish our own acceptance with God. Resting in that freedom has several effects, one of which John alludes to when he says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (I Jn 4:18–19). Faith in his love evacuates fear of our approach to God.

But I would add that faith in His freedom does more than remove fear. It also transforms—even rescues—our obedience from a transactional mindset that unwittingly conceives of God as the cosmic concierge. Knowing that my union with God—my enduring communion and fellowship with Him—is entirely grounded in what Christ has done, rather than what I do, obliterates my naïveté that I could oblige Him to reward me. Moreover, knowing the utter graciousness of that union helps me to see the height of His kindness, and impels me to obey Him for His sake alone—not merely for His gifts or even His rewards.

God does, of course, make promises of reward to those who hallow Him with their lives. But the rewards—like all things related to salvation—are bestowed not because God is obliged to compensate us, but because of His grace. We will be compelled to cast any crowns of affirmation for our obedience at His feet because we will know it was because of Him that we obeyed (Rev 4:10–11). The fruit of the Spirit comes from a heart which, like a child who unassumingly returns lost money, knows God in that way—even if it also looks forward to an inheritance still to come.

Would you say your obedience is for God, or for His gifts? Could you obey Him if He promised you nothing in return? If God loves to reward the heart that finds its reward in God alone, what conditions are you placing upon your obedience that God must strip away? What matter calls for child-like faith this morning?

by Patrick Lafferty

God's Holy Fire from Heartlight

God's Holy Fire is a daily devotional about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
  • The Always Friend

    [Jesus said,] "If you love me, show it by doing what I've told you. I will talk to the Father, and he'll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you."

    John 14:15-16 MESSAGE

    Key Thought

    Love is shown by the actions that back up a person's words. We show our love for Jesus by what we do, by obeying what he has taught us. Jesus, however, doesn't expect this demonstrated love for him to be a one-way street. He shows us his love for us by having the Father send another Friend like himself to us. This Friend, the Holy Spirit, is called the Advocate or Comforter or Helper in other translations. The Father sends this Friend so that we will never be alone. We can be confident that we will always have the presence of God in our lives!

    Today's Prayer

    Father, words can't express my thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit. I know that even when I am by myself, I am not alone. I know that when earthly friends forsake me, or those close to me betray me, your Presence is my Helper and my Friend. Thank you. Please forgive me for not seeking this Friend's help and support in times of trouble. Please make the presence of this Friend very clear as I live my daily life. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

    Ⓒ 1996-2018 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent. The Thoughts and Prayer for God's Holy Fire are written by Phil Ware.

    Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

    Scripture quotations marked MESSAGE are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

  • Anticipating the Overflow

    On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says." (He said this in regard to the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were about to receive. The Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.)

    John 7:37-39 MESSAGE

    Key Thought

    Jesus is looking forward to the outpouring of the Spirit and the time when the Holy Spirit lives inside those who believe in him. We are now in that time. This outpouring isn't a limited supply of water like a cistern, but an unlimited supply of refreshment. It isn't a well of water that sometimes goes dry in the long hot summer, but a supply that continuously overflows. And what is this water, this source of refreshment? The Holy Spirit! The Helper Jesus sends to us. So why don't we experience the overflow? Could it be because we don't seek this overflow, don't expect this overflow, and don't ask Jesus to send this overflow (Luke 11:13; Romans 15:13; cf. John 4:13-14)?

    Today's Prayer

    O Father, I am tired of trying to live my life alone, left to only my own power and strength. I ask for this overflow Jesus promised. Fill me with your Spirit and bring the overflow of your power and grace. Fill me with your Spirit so that I can serve you and honor you as you so richly deserve. Fill me with your Spirit so that I can be a blessing even in tough times. O Father, I anticipate the overflow. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

    Ⓒ 1996-2018 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent. The Thoughts and Prayer for God's Holy Fire are written by Phil Ware.

    Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

    Scripture quotations marked MESSAGE are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.