Jesus is quoted as saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27). In the wake of the mass murders in Buffalo, New York, I am sure some are wondering just where is the peace Jesus promises.
The answer, my siblings in Christ, is that it is truly all around us. The confusion comes when we mistakenly look at the peace the world offers as being equivalent to the peace Jesus gives.
What is worldly peace? Most would define it as a lack of conflict. Sounds good, but truthfully, isn’t there always conflict somewhere: globally, regionally, at home?
The world gives peace conditionally. I do for you, you do for me. There’s a sense of indebtedness, perhaps mixed with a little guilt trip.
Can we really have worldly peace? In prosperity? Does it give peace, or does it generate more angst about protecting it, or worrying if it is really enough.
Worldly peace is an allusion. A wispy, far off promise that never quite comes true.
Not so with the peace Jesus gives. The word for the peace Jesus gives in the original Greek is translated as serene in English. More than merely a lack of conflict, it carries with it the connotation of restored relationship; with God. Which is what Jesus had come to do (and has done!) and is still doing!
So my friends, I encourage you to live in and into the peace Jesus has given us. Use the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, that lives in, through and all around us. Need a reminder of these promises? One of the primary reasons she has been sent to us is to remind us of all Jesus has said, promised and done.
Lastly, don’t allow yourself to be afraid to live. Rather, bask in that serenity Jesus gives. Do we need to be evermore careful, even cautious as we live day to day? Sure. But don’t let that keep you from living lives of active, joy-filled love. Being aware of troubles in the world may just help us look for and find the serene peace Jesus gives. Here’s a little prayer that helps me remember to do just that:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
Many people are familiar with the well- known verse of Scripture: I can do all things through God who strengthens me. I have seen this verse on athlete’s equipment, on bumper stickers and billboards. It is often right in front of me and honestly, I believe it (almost always).
But…. if this Scripture is true (spoiler alert, it is!), why is it that I cannot seem to keep a New Year’s resolution. Try as I might, my firm commitment to lose weight by swearing off sweets turns into a good idea and finally to wishful thinking and waiting until next year. In talking with others, I find that the vast majority find themselves in the same boat in regard to these types of resolutions. The intentions are good, yet the ability to stay the course invariably goes away.
What is the answer? After all, God tells us we can do all things. But I have left the answer out: I can do all things, but only through God. I am sure that God wants me to watch what I eat so that I can worship God through ministry for years to come, but I need help to get there.
The problem is not with God, but with my stubbornness that continues to tell me I can do this or that thing on my own, thanks anyway, God. Personal history has revealed that in my own strength I will eventually wilt when confronted by ice cream or cookies.
So what is the answer? For me, I have to read that Philippians 4:13 in reverse: Through God’s strength, I can do everything. Reading it this way puts God first, exactly where God belongs in my heart and mind! Now I am better prepared to see God’s faithfulness toward me. And I am reminded that I need God to accomplish the good I set out to do!
Be encouraged my friends! Allow our human failing(s) to draw us ever nearer to the God who loves us all unconditionally.
Coming nearer to God will give us the opportunity to do everything God would have us do in 2022, so long as we stay aware of our need of God’s strength to do it.
While working on a sermon for the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my mind wandered back to early grade school times and the lessons we were taught about that first Thanksgiving. The pilgrims, we were told, gathered to have a dinner of thanksgiving, though by today’s standards the amount of food was paltry. That first Thanksgiving was more about being thankful for being alive as opposed to being grateful for an abundance of food.
As I continued to ponder the differences between now and then, I began to feel convicted about taking the blessings of God for granted. How often or how deeply do I reflect on the fact that my every day needs are met. I am faced daily with deciding what to eat, not wonder if I will.
With these thoughts in my mind, I decided I wanted to be more intentional and genuine in my thoughts, words and deeds with regard to being grateful. The idea struck me, as I continued to contemplate the first Thanksgiving, to put thanksgiving first.
As you who have been with me in the blog-o-sphere for a while might guess, I found the inspiration to do this in the Scriptures.
The Bible is full of passages that encourage the reader to be thankful. Here are just a few from the New International Version:
1 Thessalonians 5:18:give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Psalm 107:1:Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Psalm 100:4:Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise
I could go on, but you get the idea; being thankful to God encompasses all of the human experience. Realizing this, I still was not sure if my being grateful for the blessings I receive does not sometimes get delayed because I am distracted by this or that.
To help me with this issue, I came across the solution in another favorite passage of Scripture of mine: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)
Did you catch it? We are first told to pray instead of worrying. And then we pray with thanksgiving as we are making our requests of God. Don’t wait for an answer, instead be thankful as you pray. This is how we keep God in the forefront of our hearts and minds. Basically, we thank God for being God. And if I might add, the request we might make most often is that the Almighty increase our trust in Him.
The wonder of the promise here in being a thanksgiving first people is that we are promised the peace of God. Let that sink in a moment. The peace of God. It is given to guard our hearts and our minds according to this verse from the Letter to the Philippians. In my opinion, the primary role of God’s peace is guarding our hearts and minds from worry.
I pray for all of us that we become willing to be thanksgiving first people and that as we do, the Holy Spirit will draw us to a place of deeper trust in God. As this trust continues to grow, we will experience more and more of God’s promised peace as our tendency to worry becomes less pronounced.
So not only a Happy Thanksgiving to you all, but also one that grows you and me in our love and trust of God as we give thanks for all God has done for us and as we do, pray that God keeps our eyes open for the opportunities to share these abundant blessings with the world around us.
Waiting for something can be quite difficult. The more important that something is to us, the harder the wait usually. Maybe it is that long-awaited get-away vacation or the opportunity to reunite with an old friend. Perhaps, like often happens here in the Northeast US, the waiting for warmer temperatures seemingly takes forever. The wait for these types of things, hard as they can be, hold the promise of something positive when they do arrive.
But what about the waiting when the outcome or result is not known? I am thinking know about those of us who spend time praying for the healing of family, friends, co-workers, etc. We pray, seeking God’s mercy for these folks, but often we see little to no change for the better.
If this describes you, may today’s short blog entry serve as encouragement for you to hang in there. Reading Chapters 3 and 4 from the Acts of the Apostles got me to thinking about this. In Chapter 3, Peter and John meet a man crippled from birth. This person is carried to the gate of the temple courts to beg for food or money every day. Peter, when he has the crippled man’s attention says, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6 NIV). Instantly, this man is given the ability to walk.
This healing was instant when it happened, but it was a long time coming for we find out later in Chapter 4, verse 22 that the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old. (NIV)
Here is another example of an instant healing that was a long time coming. Jesus was in Jerusalem for one of the religious feasts when He encountered a man hoping to be healed by the stirred up water at the Sheep Gate. The Bible says of this man, One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. (John 5:5 NIV). John then tells of the conversation Jesus has with this individual and then of the Lord’s speaking a word of healing over him. As He does, this long-term physically handicapped person is instantly healed.
These are just two examples of people who had to wait what had to seem to them like forever before they got relief. But God did move on their behalf.
Like them, we are all captive to the passing of time as we understand it. God is not. He moves in perfect ways, in perfect timing, to His perfect will. This is of course far from our grasp.
So what are we to do? My encouragement is to hang in there! The Scriptures are full of examples of God’s faithfulness. His love and mercy are evident on nearly every page. We also have some experiences in our own lives where God has done something wonderful, just not on our schedule.
We also must remember that because God is outside of time as we know it, we will never fully (or even partially) understand His plans. But hang in there. Keep on praying and seeking His favor or blessing for someone. God’s track record is impeccable. The writer of the Book of Hebrews says this best: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23 NIV)
According to the most recent statistics from hospicenews.com, the average length of time a person was under hospice care in the United States was 77.9 days during 2018. That is just a tick over 2 and a half months. I have always had an affinity for numbers, as I find they help me in my expectations and plans.
This is well and good for most of the mundane activities and sports that I enjoy. However, I have found that God pays little attention to the conclusions that we draw from our statistical findings.
Never up to this point in ministry have the words of St. Peter rung more true to me: But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (2 Peter 3:8 NIV)
This tells me that it is God who created time for us. He is outside of its restrictions and constrictions. But we, like all living things, need the passing of minutes, days, weeks, etc. to help us mark time for the things of this life. In His infinite wisdom God set time in motion the way He has for our benefit. He works to a far different schedule than us, hence the helpful description of time passing by Peter as mentioned above.
I mention all this as a little background as I now tell you about Mrs. M. She was one of the first patients I had as a Pastoral Care Provider for our local hospice organization. When we first met, she had been given the prediction from her doctor that she had 2 to 4 months to live, well within the established length of time for most hospice patients.
The thing is, this was going to be an great example of God not heeding our statistical knowledge. I was invited into Mrs. M’s home in March of 2018! I just received word late last evening that she had been called home to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Her expected 2.5 months of hospice care turned into just over 3 more years of life!
And please understand, she was not merely checking the days off as they went by. In those early months after I first met her, she was still mobile and enjoying many of the things in life. She spent time with her large and extended family members, went shopping and got out to play her beloved bingo as well.
But most importantly, Mrs. M. spent much of that time deepening her relationship with Jesus Christ. It was an honor for me to be a part of this.
To be clear, in my role as Pastor in hospice, my primary focus is to provide spiritual care for the patient and any family member that chooses to join. I am not to be overtly Christian in my approach, but rather simply listen with care and provide support in ways that are appropriate to each situation.
That is not to say I cannot share faith, but that I cannot lead with it. However, there are not restrictions placed on me should the patient have questions, thoughts or concerns about Christianity.
Mrs. M. made this abundantly simple for me. At our first meeting, after introductions around, she asked me, “What happens to me when I die?” Talk about an open door to expressing and sharing the love of Christ! As I began to explain what the Bible teaches us of our need for a Savior, I learned that she had trusted Jesus for her salvation by accepting His forgiveness for her sins some years ago. Like many folks, however, her knowledge of the possibilities of what that relationship with Jesus could mean to her in the here and now was limited.
From that point on, our once or twice meetings per week were mostly spent on exploring the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the Scriptures. What I was so honored and humbled to see was how Mrs. M. lived out these truths. As her many visitors stopped into chat when I was there, she never missed the opportunity to invite them to join us in discussion and prayer. The love, compassion and care she lavished on these folks, regardless of how she was feeling on any given day, continues to inspire me to be my best for God when I am given the chance to.
Watching God bless Mrs. M. in so many ways is one of the greatest gifts He has ever given me. As a matter of fact, after 12 months, the hospice agency re-evaluated her condition and released her from their care. She remains the only graduate of hospice this side of eternity I have ever known!
This ending with hospice did not cut our relationship short, thankfully. By this time, my wife Betsy and I were in there home on Sunday evenings leading bible studies and worship. As time went on, more and more family and neighbors were invited to join Sunday Night Church, as she lovingly called it. Again, the abundance of God’s blessing is incredible.
I have learned so much from her over these past 3 years with the single most important one being to follow the instruction of God: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.
I conclude these thoughts today by asking for your help in carrying the love of God forward as my dear Mrs. M. did without reservation. Please take the time today to let someone know how much you care for them. It does not need to be anything special, maybe just a call or a walk across to street to check in on a neighbor. Or perhaps there is a family member you are in tension with. With the love of God in your heart and mind, be the one to set the those issues aside long enough to simply let them know that you care about them.
Thank you and may you be inspired by Mrs. M. as I have been.
There are so many thoughts running through my mind this Resurrection Sunday as I consider again just what the Lord Jesus has accomplished for the world. The joy, awe and wonder are as fresh this morning as they were the many years ago when the Savior revealed to me His plan for saving my life, eternally. And yet, there is a sadness in me as well as I consider those near and dear to me who have rejected the love of Christ. Amidst the abundant joy in my heart there are sections that are broken for these people. In many of these cases I have attempted in my limited way to share what God has done for me with them in hopes they would grasp the availability of that same love for themselves.
But this is not a day for discouragement! Today my sole focus is on the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. With this in mind, I would like to share a list (by no means in total) of the things I am grateful for because of the saving power of God as it has been revealed through Christ’s ultimate victory over death. As you read, I ask you to do two things. First, reflect in your own way the ramifications of Jesus’ resurrection on your life. And secondly, be intentional about living out a life of thanksgiving for the incredible gift He has given you, so that others may be attracted to God’s light through you.
Where do I start such a list of things I am thankful for because Jesus rose from the dead to forgive us? The totality of His mercy shown to sinners like me (us) is mind-boggling. So in no particular order, here goes:
Thank you, Jesus, for taking my place on that cross. You bore my sin in your body out of obedience to the Father and your love for me. Because of Your resurrection, You have defeated death and offered eternal life to all. You knew that there was no earthly way I/we could earn or deserve the Father’s mercy. So instead you demonstrated grace saturated in love to bring us to God.
Thank you, Jesus, for the hope you bring to us because of the above. You have not only supplied, at great cost to Yourself, the way out of our eternal predicament, but because You have, I can be filled with hope in the here and now. I do not have to wait until physical death to be with You. Instead, because of Your love, I can be in a nurturing relationship with You now! This developing relationship carries with it the security of Your ever-present care and protection, for You have promised to never leave nor forsake those who follow You.
Thank you, Jesus, of your on-going obedience to the Father, even after Your resurrection. By appearing to over 500 people, You made it known beyond doubt that You had come back to life.
Thank you, Jesus, for fulfilling the promise of sending the Holy Spirit after You ascended to heaven. And thank you, Holy Spirit, for Your on-going fulfillment of the Father’s work here on earth. You make the Scriptures come to life and You encourage the Church to fulfill its part in God’s plan as well as You move individual members to walk in obedience to Him.
Thank you, Jesus, for the many, many people You have placed in my path that have helped me to see You with greater clarity. These Saints are far to great in number to list individually here, but if you are/were a part of my life in Christ, I praise and thank God for you.
Thank you, Jesus, for the opportunities to serve You and make Your name known in the world today. Please help me to always remember that obedience to You is a matter of great joy to You, as it should be for me as well!
And thank you, Jesus, for the Scriptures. They truly are alive and active, filled with the very essence of the Father. May I/we in our gratitude for them continue to learn from them.
As I said, this is by no means a completed list, but I do believe it gets to the heart of the matter: I/we owe a debt to our Savior that we cannot repay. Yet out of His ever-loving heart, He has paid it for us. May we, in the lingo of today, take this love and ‘pay it forward’ in humility, love and gratitude.
May the blessings of the Resurrection of Jesus be deeply known to you today,
Thanksgiving in the United States is considered the traditional kick-off of the holiday season. How much of a season of good cheer it turns out to be is yet to be seen, however.
2020 has certainly been a year like no other. In this country we have seen civil unrest, Mother Nature at her worst, political upheaval and of course, the Covid-19 pandemic.
Amidst all the pain, suffering and uncertainty of the future, some might find it hard to be thankful at this time in history. I would not be one of them, however. My heart certainly goes out to those who have lost so much to wildfires and hurricanes. It breaks for those who have lost loved ones to sickness.
I whole-heartedly believe that true thanksgiving must spring from our hearts regardless of current circumstance. I can best accomplish this when I stay focused on the One who always deserves my humble gratitude, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I will be preaching a Thanksgiving sermon from Luke 17:11-19. I have given this message the title: Giving Thanks in a Socially Distanced World. This passage of Scriptures relates the account of Jesus healing 10 who were afflicted with leprosy. I hope that as you consider these verses, you too will be able to give proper thanks and praise more readily to our Lord.
I admit I had never used, thought of or even considered the term ‘social distancing’ before March of this year. Social distancing is now the norm. Keeping a minimum of 6 feet or more from others is considered the best way to slow the spread of Covid-19 down. It is not a new idea, however. Those 10 lepers seeking healing from Jesus used it as well: They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:12b-13 NIV)
Like us, you could say that the ten lepers were not having a good year either. Their condition was not only debilitating physically, but it made them outcasts from all people, family and friends included.
The lepers were living/existing away from their families. The family unit was very tight back then. Their absence would have been keenly felt, affecting the lives of the rest of that group. These 10 had an incurable disease and depending on its severity, a death sentence. Those family members would have had little to no hope of seeing their loved one again.
This certainly helps explain the joy they must have felt when they were cured. The desire to let their loved ones know they we healed and back with them would have been very strong; strong enough to prevent them from even thinking about going back to thank the One who had healed them.
However, in our currently socially distanced condition, we can learn the most about giving thanks from the one who came back to Jesus. Gratitude, in my opinion, is an action word. Merely saying I’m grateful without a heart and /or actions to back it up is a bit shallow. The man who went back to Jesus modeled the action of gratitude. He changed direction, putting the giving of thanks above anything else he may have initially wanted to do. He thanked the Lord before going off on his new lease on life.
Practically speaking, how might you and I display the action of gratitude in a socially distanced world? Here is one suggestion: Take the time today to call someone you know that is alone. Let them know you are thinking of them. Ask if there is anything they need and express a willingness to fulfill that need if you are able.
As I think of it, truly giving thanks in a socially distanced world depends little on our current circumstances. Rather, the driving force of daily thanksgiving is God Himself. Merely scanning the Scriptures reveals many things to be grateful on a daily basis because of who God is and what He does.
Think of it as a fill-in-the-blank exercise: God I thank you for: ______________
Here are a few examples:
God I thank you for: saving me through your Son Jesus Christ
God I thank you for: your faithful love
God I thank you for: the fact I can pray to you.
Please notice that this list includes not one item having to do with things or possessions. Rather it is all about who God is and what He has done, is doing and will do. I firmly believe that the more we keep the eyes of our hearts open to see what God is doing in and around us, the more grateful for Him we become.
This is not to say we shouldn’t be grateful for the material blessings in our lives. We should be grateful to God for the gifts He bestows on us. I merely remind you to not lose sight that the material things, as wonderful as they may be, will one day be gone. Only God is constant. He is forever loving us, leading us, calling us to Him. Let nothing separate you/me from giving thanks to Him!
The 10 lepers kept their distance, yet still called out to the Lord. You and I have no restrictions to God’s availability. The only barriers to us knowing Him more intimately are put there by ourselves.
God does not demand that we thank Him. We can assume the other 9 lepers remained healed even though they did not come back to say thanks to Jesus. But the one who did return received an even greater blessing. He got to look into the eyes of Jesus. The Lord then blessed him abundantly by revealing what faith in Him can do. I believe this man’s healing went beyond his surface condition and reached his heart with the peace that only God can give.
So run to His embrace. Know the depth of His love for you. As you do, you will find freedom to live a thanksgiving life every day that no social distance can keep you from.
Last week my wife Betsy and I rented a 20 yard roll off dumpster. Though we are no hoarders by any stretch of the imagination, two decades of living in the same, relatively small house does manage to collect and store lots of stuff. Most of it was deemed essential at one point (or thought it would be in the future), hence the slow increase of clutter in our garage and the storage space above it.
Betsy took some time off from her job so that we could work together on this project. On Wednesday, the empty container was left in our driveway.
That first afternoon we moved the heavy and cumbersome things from the garage into the container. We got a later start that planned on Thursday and by that days end we had completed just the downstairs area, leaving the more difficult upstairs work for Friday.
Friday morning we cheerfully and carefully started getting things down the ladder and out to the dumpster and several short hours later, the job was done!
As encouraging as I hope this is to you if you are faced with de-junking your home, especially if you were born during the Kennedy administration, the pastor/preacher in me feels compelled to share the two points God has laid on my heart about this task we undertook. I say from God because on my own I do not think I would have equated filling a dumpster with old things with God’s forgiveness of our sins!
Let me start with the Scripture that came to mind as I pondered all this:
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:11-12 NIV).
Much as I watched the company truck haul our old stuff away, God forgives our sins (when we come to him humbly asking Him to do so). The drivers job was to take the dumpster away, not fill it for us. So too we must come before our merciful God seeking His forgiveness. The Apostle John describes it this way:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9 NIV).
Like the things, some new, some old, that were cluttering up our living spaces, unrepented sin in our hearts keeps us separated from the closeness God wants us to know in Him. By cleaning out the garage and upstairs storage area, we can now walk safely through them. No longer is the thought running through my head that someday I must get rid of all this. It is gone because we hauled it to the light of day and then had it all taken away.
There is so much learn about God’s forgiveness! I hope, Precious Reader, you can glean some of the joy and excitement I am experiencing through this expression of how God continues to work in all who are willing to do their part. Betsy and I decided it was time to jettison the old, space-filling things, and then watched as they were taken away.
As I think about this, what a blessing forgiveness from God truly is. Psalm 103:12 tells us that He removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. Just how far is that? Picture a globe and start moving east. You are always moving in that direction. Moving east never becomes starting to move west. God is telling us that He removes our transgressions to a point beyond measurement!
And one more thing. Much as I do not have to worry that the full dumpster will someday re-appear in my driveway, once God forgives things they are forgotten, (on His part). Our human frailties seem to want to examine that old useless and potentially harmless stuff. Not God! He spoke this truth through the Prophet Jeremiah as He described what the New Covenant of His forgiveness would be like:
“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34b NIV).
God has promised to take away our sins. As proof look only to the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ that was shed for the remission of sin. We experienced a great reminder of this eternal truth as we watched the dumpster of unwanted things taken from our presence.
Having a clean and spacious garage is cool; remembering again the depth of God’s mercy and grace as evidenced by His willingness to forgive, however, is beyond compare.
The Labor Day Holiday was established in 1884 in a time of unrest among the working class. Exploitation was often cited by the fledgling labor unions as low wages and long hours in unsafe conditions were often the rule. Workers were perceived as little more than replaceable parts in the greater machine; if you didn’t like conditions or the wages being offered, someone else would. The Carpenters and Machinist Unions both claim to be the impetus behind this movement.
Many of these labor leaders were campaigning for an innovative idea, one that would curtail the overuse of the labor force. What they were asking for was not only one day from work per year to celebrate those who worked by the hour, but also for the idea of a balanced day. They were proposing that management establish an 8-hour work day which would then allow for this balance: 8 hours of work, 8 hours of recreation and 8 hours of rest.
That equation for the use of 24 hours sounds good, doesn’t it? However, as it is true today that you cannot legislate morality, coming up with a formula to live each 24 hours by is equally fruitless.
We might get one segment right, but overdo another which then disrupts the third. My experience and the experience of many that I know is that the segment that gets most short-changed is rest. Ask yourself, how’s this balance working for you? Many work more than 8 hours a day and yet will still attempt to get full time in on recreation. The result is less than ideal, for even though you get away from the workplace, fatigue still wins out. You can look at any of these three segments of time, I guarantee for most of us the one that gets cheated the most is rest/sleep.
As He is always faithful to do, God provides us exactly what we need. In the context of resting from our labors, please consider what Jesus said as recorded in Matthew 11:28-30 in your search for balance:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for you souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (NIV)
Jesus calls us to life in Him. We have eternal life assured through the salvation He has won for us. Paul’s letter to Ephesians clearly spells this out:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God –9 not by works, so that none can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV).
Salvation is God’s gift to all. We play no active part in it other than to receive it. God’s grace is extended to anyone that professes Jesus Christ as Savior.
However, there are plenty of God’s promises to us that do require us to do our part to realize them. With regard to the rest Jesus offers, He tells us that we are to “come to him, all who are weary and burdened.” Please do not miss that all-inclusive invitation to all of us who are weary and burdened!
Acknowledging that we play a part in experiencing this rest, what are we to do?
First, admit our need of this balanced life. If we’ve honestly looked, we’ve seen that we need to have it. Also, it’s ok to admit “I’m tired.” No shame in that, as matter of fact many of us succumb to pride when we push on through fatigue thinking we can overcome any obstacle if we work long and hard enough. This is rarely possible for us and never long-lasting. Only Jesus has ‘overcome the world.’ He’s the only one who could. Humbly go to Him seeking this rest.
And it’s not not just weary, but ‘burdened.’ What are you burdened by today? Finances, health, children, work, the state of the country/world, etc.? Plenty to be burdened about and they quickly become too heavy if we try to carry them on our own.
However, there are two things we need to do to hold up our end of the promise to have rest. In verse 29 of Matthew 11, Jesus tells us first to: “Take my yoke.” This is an act of our will. We take what Jesus offers, here referred to as a yoke (oxen teams; we’re made up of two animals with the smaller, less experienced one on the outside). Jesus is on the inside carrying the heavier load, to symbolize that the Lord’s guidance will bring us peace and rest.
Secondly, we are to learn from Him. “You’ve tried the rest, now try the best!” Look over your track record with dealing with problems and difficulties on your own, or in your way or power. If your past success rate is as low as mine in doing things this way, you can see that we have some things to learn from Jesus. Hence, once yoked to Him, we are to learn from Him; the One with the strength and wisdom, the One on the inside.
In conclusion: Doing life; isn’t that what the original proponents of Labor Day were attempting to legislate? So much time for this, that and the other thing. Jesus has been and is still offering this way of life all along!
His yoke is not easy because He expects less from us, rather it is light because He carries so much of the load! In the same way, our burdens don’t lighten or go away simply because we follow Jesus, but again because He carries the majority of the weight, they become so much lighter and easier for us to carry.
Is there a balance that can be found in life like the people who established Labor Day 135 years ago were striving for? If you are looking for a neat and well-structured formula of 8-8-8, the answer is most likely no.
But if the balance you seek has Jesus in the heart of all you do, then the answer is a resounding yes! Jesus has told us again today that He will give us rest. His offer is true and reliable. He will give it if we seek Him for it. It all boils down to a question of faith: Is what God’s Word says applicable to us today? If you believe that it is indeed ‘active and alive,’ the answer is again yes!
With the truth of God activated in your heart and mind, you can know and experience the wondrous truth that Jesus Himself provides the ‘rest for our souls’ that we need.
On this Labor Day, and every day, keep all that you do centered on the Lord Jesus. As you do, you will find that the rest He gives doesn’t just come at the end of our physical activity, but in fact is present and available to us all the time. As you let this truth take root in your heart, you will find that you will not need legislation to provide you balance between work, leisure and rest, Jesus Christ has and is your balance in abundance.
Many of my generation grew up reading Mad magazine. Therefore the iconic face of Alfred E. Neuman was not only easily recognized, many of us tried to play the part of being care-free about everything. Never much of an actor, I was not particularly good at hiding my worries.
Looking back, I realize that my worries were for the most part shared by my friends, we just wouldn’t show the weakness of uncertainty in front of each other. Hindsight has also revealed to me that my worries were quite similar to those of my adolescent peers: Girls, popularity, making money, getting a car, etc. Worrying about things seemed as natural as any other aspect of growing up.
I actually developed a much greater conflict over my worries once I became a Christian. I began to read the Bible and in so doing came across verses such as: Cast all your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. (Psalm 55:22) and, When I am afraid, I will trust in you (Psalm 56:3).
I had naively assumed that once I had broken with my past life of debauchery to try my best to follow Jesus and His teachings, life would become a utopia. The worries of life, many of which still kept me awake at night, were going to simply melt away as bliss dominated my existence.
As the days of being a Christian turned into months and then years, my worries still far outweighed any times of care-free life. Oh, I had learned to put the brave face on, or maybe it was the smiling face of my childhood buddy Alfred E., when asked how things were in my life. But inside, the worries of providing for my family and how to be a good husband and dad were constant companions.
Thankfully, God knows me better than I do myself and His faithfulness knows no bounds. He continued to put caring people into my life who helped me, through the instruction of example, that living life with the confidence of God’s care and protection was possible.
My wife, Betsy, took the lead in helping me. Her calm demeanor was a direct result of her practicing her faith daily. Her long-term daily reading of the Scriptures opened up her heart and mind to the goodness of the Lord, and she lived it right in front of me, as she does to this day.
Eventually, I took up the practice of daily Bible reading. God, knowing that I am often a slow learner, has taken His time with me as I spent time in His word. The passage of Scripture that continues to help me with my tendency to worry first, pray later is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV).
Clearly, God wants me/us to take everything to Him in prayer, not just the needs and emergencies that tend to crop up. The instruction to not be anxious about anything is virtually impossible to perfect, but we can more than counter that by continually going to the Almighty. The direction to do this with thanksgiving also quiets my worries. When I remember to be thankful to God, much of the urgency or unmanageability of a situation lessens.
The next promise that our faithful God fulfills when we humbly come before Him expressing our needs and desires, is to guard our hearts and minds. The original Greek word translated guard carries with it a sense of shielding one from trouble. Because it is God who does the shielding, this becomes so much more than merely deflecting a problem away. In His divine providence, God will literally shield our minds from dwelling on an issue, which in turns allows us to come to the realization that He has protected us. This level of trust in our loving God helps us to not want to bury our heads in the sand hoping things will change, but rather to seek the shelter that His loving arms can provide.
As with most everything I attempt, I find keeping one of the ideas from Alcoholics Anonymous in the forefront of my mind helps: to seek progress, not perfection. I still find myself worrying over things and projecting negative outcomes that rarely come about. The progress I’ve made is that I fall into this trap far less often than I used to.
So Alfred E., like you I really do not have to worry and blessedly, being that I’m real and you are a cartoon caricature, I can keep turning to this Awesome God who daily invites me to travel through life with Him. By taking Him up on this invitation, I can know that my heart and mind are protected by Him as He gives me a peace I will never understand this side of heaven. Not to worry, everything will be revealed on the other side!