“But for the grace of God go I.” This phrase is often mentioned in AA rooms. It is a simple recognition of the fact that drunkenness or drug abuse would still plague us if it were not for the power of God’s grace to intervene on our behalf.
I joyfully profess that truth again today, May 3rd, 2022, as it marks the anniversary of the 31st year of my journey in recovery from alcoholism. I know in the very depth of my heart that it is God’s grace that has kept me sober all this time.
Yet it occurs to me today that this grace of God poured out for my benefit is not merely a defensive measure against picking up a drink. If it were so, I think one good dose of it back then would have been enough to set and keep me on this path. The grace of God is powerful enough to free a helpless and hopeless person like me so that recovery could happen and my drinking problem would stay in the past.
But I am discovering that God’s abundant grace is also a powerful and guiding force for life itself. Above and beyond recovery, as wonderful as that fact, the grace that pours from our loving God’s heart is constantly at work within us. It will transform us from selfish to being more selfless, if we allow grace more fully into our heart and mind.
Grace, by definition, is God’s unmerited favor. I/we cannot earn it and for my part, I certainly don’t deserve it. Still, God’s love is such that grace is offered to all; without condition!
The question/choice then becomes: What will I do with this awesome gift? For me, and over time, I am learning to allow this gift fuller reign in my life. As I do, I discover that God does indeed want only good for me. By allowing grace to permeate my heart, I find the direction and desire to follow God’s plan more willingly for my life. And why not? I have come to trust God without reservation to keep me sober, one day at a time. With this realization I am coming to know that God also has a plan laid out for me that if I choose to follow, with bring glory and honor to God and joy to me.
Be assured, there is absolutely nothing special or unique about me that has somehow broken the mold and earned God’s care and protection. God cares for and loves all creation simply because God is the Creator!
Because this love is equal to all, we all have the same opportunity to allow God’s grace to do its powerful and transformational work in each of our lives. One need not be an alcoholic or drug addict to experience God’s love. Rather, simply consider the possibility that God loves you, period. No past is so terrible to somehow stop God’s love from coming to you. It is only our reluctance to embrace grace that prohibits us from more fully knowing and living in it.
Today I celebrate not merely a milestone of time sober, but rather I give praise, glory and honor to the God who has brought me from death to life. I thank God for the chance to be more actively involved in living in grace. May you be encouraged to do the same!
I recently preached a message based on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, 3:17-4:1. In it the Apostle marks a stark difference between those who do not follow God from those that do. In stating this difference, he used a phrase that piqued my interest and was the motivation behind this message.
Paul talks about this difference in this way:
… many live as enemies of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. (vv. 18b-20a)
Citizenship in heaven? What does that entail? As I pondered this, I began to consider what it is to be a citizen of the country I live in, the United States.
The Declaration of Independence states that all of us are created equal, that we are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Like many, I suppose, I have a tendency to take these rights for granted. I am attempting to stay more aware of these things so that I might be better attuned to try to effect change for those who are not being treated equally.
As I think about my rights and responsibilities with regard to being a citizen of heaven, I find that here as well I am a work in progress.
Considering your heavenly citizenship will call you to think and act in ways that will seem contrary to the world around you. And though it will present its own unique set of challenges for each of us, our goal is to simply stay aware of what I’m calling: dual citizenship. Attempting to keep our hearts and mind focused on Christ will, even if it is ever so slowly, work change into us. It is a process.
The process of transformation that Paul mentions in the letter to the Philippians is an on-going event. You and I are being transformed into the image of Christ. Image: something like or reflecting the presence of. I’m not saying that we are to walk piously around with our hands folded.
In fact, the very opposite. Citizenship in heaven does not negate our responsibilities to our fellow humans (and all of creation)! A heart and mind focused on Christ and living as a citizen of heaven should be helping to open our eyes to the world around us. The process of transformation, as it brings us closer to the heart of God, will make our hearts more compassionate. It will show us things to pray for, always a good first response! It will allow you to see with concern the pain or suffering or uncertainty of another without also casting a judgment about them or their condition or its cause. For some, it will inspire toward actions that seek not only the relief of symptoms, but will work for change that can eliminate some of the systemic things that plague us still today.
To sum up, being an active participant as a citizen of heaven will allow us to get closer to the heart of Jesus that Luke talks in the gospel that bears his name. In the 13th Chapter he quotes Jesus as saying that He has often felt as a mother-hen as He laments over Jerusalem. This is a loving and tender picture of a mother-hen gathering and protecting her brood under her wings. This was Jesus’ desire for those who opposed the kingdom of heaven then. I firmly believe it still is today. Jesus invites everyone under the protective wings of God, that includes you and me. May we all, in this Lenten season and beyond, allow that on-going transformation to take place in us; that we grow in our love for God, realizing the blessing of being a child of the Almighty. And may this growing awareness increase our own hearts capacity and willingness to love. With our true desire being to simply honor God as we live in the reality of being a citizen of heaven even as we still live as citizens in the world today. Amen.
We’ve been wearing and removing masks for a long time now. But it is not the N-95 type I want to talk about now. Instead, I ask you to consider some of the other masks we wear at times, masks that are not easily seen, but all too often just as real.
Sometimes I wear a mask to veil my emotions. It is an easy one to wear. You ask me simply, “How are you?” My reply, “Just fine, thanks.” Nothing too terribly earth shattering about this mask, unless we wear it as a defense mechanism all the time.
No, the masks on my mind today are the hidden ones, or at the least the ones that hide our true identity. A devoted follower of the Lord Jesus is to be growing in God’s likeness day by day. No mask should hide this progress. Yet, speaking for myself, I must admit that I do put on various masks from time to time that obscure the living God within me.
One of the many of these is: the mask of indifference. Wearing this one prevents me from being able to empathize with the hurting world and worse yet, can keep me from trying to help. Much like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, my preoccupation with something ‘more important’ can cause me to give a wide birth to a need I might see.
Another ugly mask I slip on from time to time is one of self-satisfaction. This mask keeps me satisfied in my little world, not wanting anything or anyone to change the status quo I have worked so hard to establish. It is like the old 2 filter HEPA mask I wore when doing industrial painting: I had my own ‘fresh air’ supplied and didn’t want anything to contaminate it.
This mask of self-satisfaction can easily be turned inside out to be worn as a mask of judgment. Behind this covering I can easily judge folks as being unworthy of my time or stuff. This mask would have me say, “If they would only work a job, they wouldn’t be so poor.” This makes it too easy to categorize people instead of searching for ways to help them in their immediate need and to work for change that would prevent systemic poverty. Wearing this mask can prevent me from seeing others simply as another sojourner here on earth as I attempt to rationalize my lack of response to their need. An ugly mask indeed.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Much as the protective mask prevalent today hides some of our face, so these less obvious ones often hide our true heart and intentions. Wearing these less visible masks is in no way proper for a disciple of Christ.
Because we keep ourselves hidden behind these types of masks, we are hindered from truly seeing and loving those around us. To the extent we stay behind these veils is to the extent we do not care for creation. These masks can blind us to the needs of those we term as ‘different.’ Or ‘difficult’ or even ‘an enemy.’ They can prevent us from seeing the poor, the needy and the hungry. Perhaps even worse, wearing the mask that judges others may well keep us from seeing the shining face of Jesus on them.
Peter, John and James got an up close and personal look at the glory of God with no barrier at the Transfiguration. Peter’s reaction: “Let’s stay here!” is understandable, but not practical and certainly not why God allowed them to see the incredible sight of the Transfiguration. We do sometimes have ‘mountain top’ experiences in our walk of faith. There is a certain appeal to wanting to stay in that moment, to not risk losing what it is that is going so wonderfully.
But staying on the mountaintop is not what we are commissioned to do. We are to come down, hopefully with our faces aglow, sharing God’s love with the world around us.
Now I have never been witness to anything like the Transfiguration, or have I? For sure, I have not seen Jesus engaged in conversation with Moses and Elijah, but that fact should not dull my eyes to the activity of God around me.
For example, can I/we not see God at work when we marvel at a newborn child/grandchild? Isn’t God’s light shining brightly when we witness someone caught in addiction getting set free from it? Or when we see reconciliation where there has been long-term strife perhaps in family members speaking to each other after a time self-imposed separation. Or how about when someone is able to truly forgive another who has seriously broken trust with them.
Be it in examples like these or others you may have been privy to, I encourage us all to shine radiantly from a fresh experience with God. How? First, let’s discard all the masks I mentioned at the beginning. Being judgmental or uncaring are certain ways we can hide the love of God from others (and ourselves).
Next we need to overcome the fear that might be there. Ridding those negative masks may appear to make us vulnerable or at least more transparent. Recognizing these feelings does not mean we are held captive to them. Rather, letting the love of God shine from you radiantly is taking a step out in faith. I firmly believe that the God who has showered grace on us will not leave us high and dry as we do.
The God who loves you so much does not want you to be inactive in your reaction to that love. As God continues to come down to us through the Sacraments and the Word, so we are to ‘come down,’ if your will, and live our life of faith in the midst of our own context. Live into the love God has freely given you. Then let the love from God lead you in all you do, making your entire countenance glow. Don’t mask that in any way, but rather let that love shine as a beacon of hope for all. Amen.
(As I journey through the United Lutheran Seminary, I will keep you updated with how things are going and occasionally share some of my work. This is one such time. The assignment was to share some thoughts of the topic of Theology)
My first thought upon looking at this assignment was, “Theology is the study of God. How can I adequately do that in a forum of roughly 150 words?” Relief from my mental gymnastics came as I realized that many more learned folks than me over the centuries have struggled with this same question; some writing great volumes about theology without ever covering the entirety of the subject.
Then, as if the study of God were not enough, those considering this usually add the study of religion to it, primarily as it deals with God’s relationship with the world at large.
Again, my finite brain shrivels at the enormity of the task. But fear not, I move forward knowing that my intentions are good and continually hoping that the God whom I/we study will guide my understanding as He leads me/us into further knowledge of His vastness.
Scripture brings comfort as it informs that in this life we cannot know God fully (1 Corinthians 13:12). Yet this encouragement is not to dissuade from gaining more knowledge of the Almighty. Hence, the study of Him. I firmly believe that it is God’s desire that we do indeed learn more about Him. Not for our edification, but for His glory.
In this pursuit, He that is all-knowing bestows on those who earnestly seek Him more knowledge of the things divine. What a privilege! What joy in gaining knowledge of the Creator!
My prayer for me and all of us as we journey together is that God will continue His transforming work in and on us all, for His glory and the edification of all who call on His name.
30 years ago, May 3rd, 1991, was a Friday. Though I had no idea at the time, it was to be the anniversary of my new life in sobriety. As I have documented here before, I am an alcoholic. To be sure, I had no idea of that fact 30 years ago. In fact back then, I wasn’t looking for some way to stop drinking, I only wanted to get out from under the load of trouble I was in. My sick mind thought I might gain some sympathy if I could pass off the mess I had made of things, as in my own words at the time, “Maybe I drink a little too much.”
That may well be the understatement of my life! Yet, as AA has taught me, it is not the amount of alcohol that I consumed but rather what it did to me when I drank that is the problem.
The effect was that over 15 years I had become morally, physically and spiritually bankrupt. I was a wreck, on the fast track to an early grave and an appointment with eternity that would be spent apart from a loving God.
But on that Friday morning all those years ago, all I was aware of was how awful I felt physically. As bad as the stomach pain and shakes were, nothing compares with the devastation I felt as my Dad, with my wife riding shotgun, drove me the 90 minutes to the nearest treatment center that had an open bed. Not a word was spoken and I was left to my clouded thoughts of impending doom.
With my focus still solely on me, I had no understanding of the pain they were in or of their concern for the future. They were hurting at least as much as me. Blessedly, they jumped in fully to support me in the journey I was about to embark upon from the very start.
And what a journey! Of primary importance is this: In the small examination room I found myself in the detox were all sorts of literature from Alcoholics Anonymous. As I glanced at it, I saw the reference to a Higher Power. In that moment, the Lord revealed Himself to me as that Power by letting me know that He was with me and would see me through. I count May 3rd not only as my sobriety date (for I have not had a drop since, by the grace of God), but eternally more importantly as the date that Jesus Christ poured out His forgiving grace on me, thus assuring me of my forever home with Him.
Now that journey has completed 30 years. I lack the words to properly thank God for what He has done and continues to do for me. I started this day as I woke up asking Him to do for me what I cannot, that is to stay sober. Then I asked Him to help me see His will clearly today, that I may do and say things that bring Him honor. At days end I plan to thank Him again for what He has provided me.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my wonderful wife Betsy for her unwavering support of my recovery. I might have done it without her, but in no way would I have enjoyed it as much as I have. Her faith in God helped mine to grow. She continues to live that godly example out day by day, thus encouraging me to do the same.
To the many folks who have and are praying for me to stay sober, you have my deepest gratitude. Your belief in me has made me believe in myself.
To the countless friends I have, both past and present in AA, please know that I love you. Your sharing of life’s challenges and rewards have been a constant support for me as I too face them. I have found your willingness to be transparent about the struggles of life in recovery has shown me how to do the same. And for those times you have called me out, thanks so very much. You have cared enough to want to help me see the blind spots I sometimes put up, those times when I was being less than honest with myself and you. May the 30 years God has given me be an encouragement to you to hang in there for one more day.
30 years, wow! I remember clearly thinking in my early days of my AA experience about the long-term sobriety of some of the ‘old-timers.’ I was 31 when God set me on this path and I recall thinking at that time when one of these icons mentioned that kind of length of sobriety that I would be over 60 years old if and when I got there.
Well guess what, I’m there! And for whatever time God has left for me to continue on this journey, I pray that He will keep me ever hungry for more of Him, that I may grow in this life He has given me in order to give Him thanks and praise and to continue to share the Good News of His transforming love with all.
Thanks for reading.
Be blessed and be a blessing,
My name is Chuck, and I am an alcoholic. I am also a loved child of God, forever grateful for His overflowing mercy to an undeserving sinner like me.
Please, please, please understand from the very beginning of this: I AM NOT TRYING IN ANY WAY TO RAISE MONEY! I AM NOT SEEKING DONATIONS FOR ANYTHING!
However, I am going to proceed into a topic that is downright sensitive to many and clearly off-limits to many more: the giving of money.
To re-iterate, I share with you my experiences in the realm of giving only in hopes that others will find the joy I have when the power of the dollar loses its hold on you.
For a quick review, allow me to share some of the formative background of my approach to money and the acquisition of things. As a child, I watched my Dad work hard to supply his family with our basic needs and a few of our wants. He was happy to fulfill his role as provider, but was equally guarded about how any of his hard-earned would be spent outside of our home. The idea he installed was to take care of your own, and anything left over was to be saved for that rainy day that was sure to come. It was not disposable it anyway toward charity of any kind.
As I have chronicled before, my early adulthood was a travesty of waste and destruction brought about by my alcoholism. All childhood lessons regarding money were forgotten or ignored, and I accumulated a large sum of debt.
Coming out of that haze and into recovery, I was driven to pay back every dime I owed. I was blessed with employment that enabled me to make good money, meeting the needs of my own family while paying down the mountain of debt.
It was during this season of life that I was introduced to the idea of tithing. I found the idea of giving 10% to the church I was attending a novel idea, but one that had no practicality in my circumstances. Once I heard the part about giving some of my money, I apparently shut my ears to the rest of the explanation. By doing so I missed the entire point about giving back to God first because anything I had came from Him anyway. The Bible refers to this as giving to God the first fruits of our labor, I simply called it crazy. I mean, how could I give any percentage when we barely had enough coming in to cover expenses.
As I look back on those days now, I am ever so grateful that my wife Betsy did understand from the outset what this giving was truly about. She was able to slowly help me to see the selfishness and short-sightedness of my hold on to it at all costs approach to our finances.
God, as always, was gracious and patient with me as my heart softened. As I came to more fully realize that everything we had or earned was all because of His love for us, I came to understand why it was God calls us to give back to Him ‘off the top’ instead of grudgingly handing over leftovers.
It was now that He began to reveal to me the freedom that comes when giving to God unreservedly. Instead of viewing giving to the church as a burden that was going to further tighten our budget, I began to see how I was spending on not so necessary things. For example, the rationalization that our busy lives necessitated having take-out food 2-3 times a week was replaced with a spirit of cooperation that allowed us to plan and make family meals together. This not only saved lots of money, but it also fostered a much more unified front with regard to the family finances.
Throughout the ensuing years we have continued to tithe to the local church. Please understand that we hold to no formula of giving. Nor to do we believe that we are checking some cosmic box that will earn us favor with the Almighty. We do use 10% as a benchmark, but these days we often find we are blessed to give over and above that number. Again, not because we have to, but rather that we get to.
The freedom that I mentioned at the top has grown from this last point. Giving is an act of obedience, not obligation. With my heart positioned in this way, giving becomes a joy because I know that obedience to God in any matter brings joy to him. And my personal belief is that when we come to obey in these areas that were especially difficult to give up or move away from, His joy is even greater.
Please understand, we are not living some austere life as we follow God’s direction. To the contrary, we are blessed with so much more than we ever have had before. The thing is that the blessings these days are not measured in material wealth, but rather in the deep assurance of God’s sovereignty over our lives.
My advice to any who ask me about the topic of finances is this: Live within your means and always remember to thank God for all He gives you. My willingness to give back to Him sprung from the development of an attitude of gratitude toward all He provides me. I present no formula for success. But I do share with you the joy of the freedom that came (and stays) to my life when I placed the importance of God over the importance of money. The freedom I speak of has been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. The joy is in living this out in all aspects of life.
As always, any thoughts you want to share on this topic are welcome. I would enjoy some dialogue on this.
The third recorded miracle recorded in John’s Gospel is yet another encounter between the Son of God and an individual. You can (and should) read all about in John 5:1-13. As a matter of fact, please read it after you are done looking at this blog, for it is a particularly good practice to check for yourself the scriptures someone is teaching/writing about. This helps you verify what is being considered and more importantly, opens your heart to what Holy Spirit may be wanting to reveal to you.
For the all-important context, an undisclosed amount of time has passed since the end of Chapter 4 where Jesus had spoken a word of healing over the royal official’s son.
In Chapter 5, Jesus is now back in Jerusalem for one of the Jewish feasts. The Lord walks to one of the gates of the city where many sick and invalid folks are. There is a pool of water in that place that many believe has healing powers, if only they can be the first to get in when the water is stirred up.
The Bible describes this collection of folks at this pool like this: Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. (John 5:3 NIV).
I must admit that I have wondered from time to time why Jesus didn’t just speak the words of healing over that entire gathering. Certainly, He has the power and compassion to do so, yet the Lord sought out only one person at that time. Though I cannot pretend to know why, my guess is that Jesus wanted this interaction to be personal; showing us that He can/will be personal with each one of us as well. More about that in a bit.
The author tells us that the man Jesus spoke to had been an invalid for 38 years and undoubtedly had been brought to this supposed pool of healing many times. Jesus addresses this fellow with what seems to be the most obvious of questions: “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6 NIV)
Whether the man thought the answer was implied because he was there we don’t know. What we can be certain of is that the lame man went directly into his litany of how he has no one there to help him get into the water when it is stirred, thus preventing him from partaking of the possibility of healing.
What a human-nature laden response that is! How many times, Most Cherished Reader, have you and I gone into a blow by blow account of our ailments when asked how we are. It seems that at times we simply want the whole world to know every ache, pain and problem we have. Maybe I’m looking for strength in numbers through your sympathy when I engage in this activity. But no matter my reasoning, I am not helping my condition in any way by merely re-hashing what the issues are.
In the case of our invalid friend at the pool, Jesus does not bite on the invitation to commiserate. Instead, the Lord simply tells the man to get up, pick up his mat and walk. The healing is immediate as John tells us this man who had been waiting for so long for help does just that!
Jesus then slips quietly away, once again allowing for the glory of God to be revealed rather than any flashy spotlight to be shone on Him.
Reading on, we find that neither the Jews he encountered or the newly healed man himself had any clue as to how or why this miracle has occurred. The people, instead of rejoicing that this crippled man was now somehow walking among them, pointed out he was breaking a Sabbath rule by now carrying his mat around as he walked on rejuvenated legs!
The former lame man was clueless as well: The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there (John 5:13 NIV).
So why did Jesus select this one individual for healing at that time? Until we see the Lord face to face to ask Him, we won’t know. If I may be so bold, however, allow me to propose two possible explanations as to why this played out the way it did.
First, as I mentioned above, Jesus had to get through the wall of defense the crippled man had built up. His pain and misfortune had become familiar daily partners; so much so that they were what he mentioned to Jesus when asked directly if he wanted to be healed. Don’t you and I do something similar from time to time? It is as if we are more comfortable talking/lamenting/complaining about our problems than we are in doing what we can to lessen or remove them.
Though this first possible reason puts an unfavorable light on how we sometimes deal with adversities, the second reason I propose is teeming with grace and mercy from the Lord. From the many, many people who were desperately waiting for healing, Jesus personally presented Himself to just one at that time. I point this out not as a lament for those still waiting, but rather as evidence of Jesus’ level or personal care that He makes available.
Did/does He have the power to heal them/us all with one spoken word? Absolutely! But here, as in other cases, Jesus is stressing the eternal value of entering relationship with Him as opposed to merely supplying a band-aid to the issue at hand. I know that my tendency after recovering or feeling better is to forget about what was wrong and how I got over it. Jesus desires to help us all on a much deeper level than just alleviating our pain.
As wonderful as the physical healing is or would be, the eternal significance of the personal relationship Jesus offers cannot be overstated. That is why, in my opinion, Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle John to record this particular healing event, for it highlights the personal way Jesus reaches out to all of us, one at a time!
I pray that you and I come to that place that allows us to know the personal invitation of Jesus Christ. If that entails healing from sickness or infirmity, may it be to His praise and glory! But most importantly, may we, after this type of encounter with the Lord, walk from it with the comfort and assurance of God’s personal love for each and every one.
There is an elementary school near where Betsy and I live. Each September as this school re-opens, the traffic department of our police force sets up a portable speed detector. A fairly quiet street during the summer becomes quite busy with buses and parents dropping off and later picking up their kiddos. My observation is that the large flashing numbers do indeed slow many motorists down.
As I said, this is a yearly occurrence, and I suspect that unless schools go to 100% virtual learning, it will continue to flash its warning to the drivers passing by our home in the ensuing Septembers.
That being said, it came as no surprise when the traffic folks set one up just beyond our driveway last week. Nothing new, right? True, until yesterday morning.
Betsy and I are early risers. We enjoy a long walk almost every morning with our Golden doodle Violet. Yesterday was no exception until we turned the last corner to come home. As we did, we saw a group of 4 joggers/runners taking turns sprinting at the speed sign to see who could go the fastest! They were enjoying themselves and we shared a chuckle with them (Violet really wanted to join in!).
As we finished our walk, Bets and I both agreed that was something we had never seen before. Trying always to be open to blog ideas/sermon illustrations, I wondered how this might fill the bill. I did not have to long.
I got to thinking about Peter, James and John as Jesus led them up a mountain to experience what the Bible calls The Transfiguration. You can read about it in Chapter 17 of Matthew’s Gospel for the full account. But for now, imagine those three disciples following Jesus up a path when suddenly:
He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
And if that were not shocking enough:
Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. (Matthew 17:2-3)
Now there was really something no one had ever seen before! The lessons and applications from this passage of scripture are far too numerous to go into any depth on this platform, so I will leave you, Dear and Appreciated Reader, with just one: Peter, James and John had known Jesus for some time at this point. They had seen miracles and in the chapter just before this, had been part of a discussion that revealed Jesus to be the promised Messiah. Knowing what they did, they were still blown away at these events (who wouldn’t be!).
My questions for you and me: No matter how well you might currently know Jesus, would you still be awed by an event like the Transfiguration? Does your heart and mind have room left in them for Jesus to do something you have never seen before?
Please feel free to share your thoughts on this. If I do not get right back to you, I’m probably just down the street trying to improve my running speed.
I was only a toddler when President Kennedy was assassinated. My only knowledge of that tragedy has come from what I have read and the things my parents told me about those days. I did not experience the shock, horror and sadness the country did.
The events of 9-11-2001 were entirely different for me. I remember where I was (in an industrial paint spray booth, painting dump trucks) when a co-worked told me.
After work that day I sat for hours watching, trying to come to grips with what had happened and worried about what was next. I recall the conversation on the phone with my Dad as his voice quaked in a mixture of outrage and fear.
Getting our two young children ready for bed that night was a challenge as well.
The images of the ensuing days as the rubble burned and smoldered are forever etched in my memory. Many of us prayed for those who might still be alive in all that carnage, that they be discovered quickly.
As the days passed and turned into weeks, then months, our nation began to emerge from the rubble. In my lifetime I had never experienced the national unity we were feeling. We, as a nation had been attacked. And from the rubble, came a resolve to care for one another simply because we were all Americans. We had been hurt and we were scared. But we were together. We wanted justice and we strived to care for one another in the process.
Nineteen years later, we are buried in rubble once again. This time the explosions of hate have come from within. The unity were knew as a country as been obliterated. The idea of helping a stranger simply because they need help and we could provide it is completely foreign to most in these dark days.
My fervent prayer today is that we as a nation can once again rise up from the rubble. The wreckage of racial hatred, the senseless violence and the fractured state of national politics have buried us. There is seemingly no light, no one working feverously to free us from what appears to be total collapse.
Thankfully, there is someone, and His name is Jesus! Only He can lift the boulders of hate and distrust from our hearts. Only He has the power to unite us truly and eternally, not only as a nation, but as a world-wide body of believers.
I am asking you, Dear Reader, if you know Jesus as your Savior, to join with me today. Please pray that our nation rises from the rubble again. Not only rises, but stands united with Christ as it’s headship and that a true spirit community replaces distrust and disunity.
Are we asking for a lot? Yes we are. We are asking for something that is beyond any human power to achieve. That being said, allow me to leave you with the words of Jesus Himself as He discussed matters that were above the capabilities of mankind:
“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27 NIV)
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.