My Burden is Light

This morning, as I reflected on the idea of the burden being light and the yoke being easy, I thought about wearing a yoke, and how it must rub against the skin when the animal wearing it moves, the weight of the contraption laying on its shoulders. I thought about how it clamps down over its head and shoulders, locks in place, and limits its motions.  

How does this apply to the spiritual life?  Jesus promised us freedom.  In particular, he promises to free us from sin. What does this mean? First, I think we need to identify sin. If God’s law is summarized as love of God and neighbor, then sin is anything that puts me first, that fails to be loving towards others.  

Jesus’ form of freedom is about freeing one from the desires that lead us to sin; from the brokenness within us that allows our will to be exercised in favor of sin. Anyone who has experienced God and his love in a deep and life changing way, has some semblance of not wanting to sin, but like Paul, we find ourselves choosing sin. Rom 7:14-17. So, what’s the deal? How are we freed from the burden of the yoke? How do we arrive at the place in our lives where we better exercise our will in favor of sinless behavior? 

The answer is love, an encounter with God, who is love.  Once we have this, it is about growing in our capacity to love as God loves.  We have to love God more than we love whatever it is that we think we want. For most of us, this is a life long journey, a journey of moving from selfish love to selfless  love. 

In effect, our desire for personal satisfaction (i.e., sin) locks us in, just like a yoke locks the animal in.  Even though it chaffs and weighs us down, we are still attached to it, even when Jesus releases the latch on the yoke, even when he frees us.  

What is the answer? Again, we find the answer in Paul, who says, I live no longer I, but Christ live in me.  Gal 2:19-21. From this verse, we can extrapolate that we find the answer in picking up our crosses and following in the footsteps of Jesus.  We find it in dying to self.  For instance, when we fast and live in the discomfort of hunger, we learn to tolerate the discomfort of wanting something, and choosing not to get it.  We die to the desire to fill ourselves. When we find a way to patiently endure an uncomfortable social setting, and offer it to God, we die to self, exercise self discipline, and when we do it out of love of God, we start finding ourselves free from sin.  This is especially true when we ask the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, to supernaturally enhance our desire to stay the course, we allow God to be our savior, we give him the credit, and we really start to experience freedom. 

The problem is, even after all of these experiences, we, like the ancient Israelites, still find ourselves neglecting him, we still find ourselves under the yoke, even though he has cut the bindings.  Luckily, God is as patient with us as he was with the Israelites. He is in our corner, rooting for us. All we have to do is persevere, pray for deeper conversion, and continue asking the Holy Spirit to help us untangle ourselves from the bondages of all that we think we want and desire. We ask him to continue to show us how his love and a sin free life is our true hearts’ desire. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit reviewing your yoke. How does it bind and limit you? Have you had an encounter with love that has caused you to want to go on this journey of dying to selfishness, and replacing it with selflessness, a form of love, which is God itself? Be honest with yourself. How much do you love him? How much do you want to love him.  Spend some time asking him to help you desire him ever more. Ask him to help you understand the life-long benefits of becoming selfless in this world that promotes the idea of looking out for self.  

In Him,

dw 

Mary Did You Know?

Yesterday, I commented on how many miraculous aspects of our faith can become simple facts accepted in faith. This song really brought the truth of this fact to light.  This morning, as I listened to this song several times in a row, I found myself in tears.  I found the words, the truth, penetrating my heart, melting it.  

This helped me see more clearly that there is power in the words of the Gospel. The Truth is life altering.  However, when the words become reduced to factual statements accepted in faith, they lose the power to continue altering our lives. 

When we talk about Truth, we are talking about a God who loved us enough to take on the form of his creation, to enter into the world he created. He walked among us. He healed the blind and lame. He called people to conversion, to live in his Kingdom, which isn’t  just some place outside of time. It is here and now.  After doing what was expected of the Messiah (healing and the like), he did the unexpected, and died a brutal death on the cross.  In the time of Jesus, this was the most shameful way to die, and to many of us, it is just something that happened. Back in the day, it was a scandal and a hurdle for many who were challenged to accept Jesus as their Savior. Today, it’s just the way things are. Back in the day, people had to wrestle with the truth, and we take it all on faith.

Don’t give me wrong, I’m not saying we should cast aside statements of faith. What I’m saying is that we need to give them back their power to change our lives. We need to find ways to allow them to break through our protective layers; to penetrate our sinful nature. We need to feel the earth move beneath our feet, figuratively speaking, so that we can be people on fire for God. It is time to stop playing it safe. We need to stop sitting on the sideline. Jesus came to move mountains, and our hearts, cold as the stones in any mountain, must melt at the words of the Gospel, and maybe the best way to accomplish this, is to return to the time when we wrestle with Truth. Again, I’m not suggesting that doubt is the answer. I am suggesting that by asking questions, like Mary did you know,…, that by pondering these things in our hearts, we can once again find power in the words of God. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit exploring your own heart. Do the words of the gospel move you? Do they cause you to want to be a better person? No, the question is, do they make you want to become one with God? Do they drive you towards a willingness to endure any hardship necessary to be re-formed in the image of God? Do you they set your heart on fire, and motivate you to desire setting the hearts of others on fire? Spent some time reflecting on your life. What events have caused you to fall to your knees, whether literally or figuratively? What was it about those events that had this desired effect? How can you use this knowledge to springboard you beyond plain words towards a life altering encounter with God?

In Him,

dw 

Jesus is the Reason

Over the last couple of weeks, I have watched Christmas movies and done some Christmas shopping and decorating. I have to say, I hadn’t realized just how far society had moved from understanding the meaning of Christmas. I was aware, but the last couple of weeks have really brought to light just how far Jesus has been removed from the season.

We are all aware of how Christmas has become about celebrating winter and the beauty of snow. It is become about the magic of white Christmases, snowman that come to life, and romantic love. Even when we look at the traditionally Christian themes, we see commercialization. Santa Claus has gone from being a saint who reflects Jesus to us, to one who just spreads this magical joy of the winter season. 

I know I’m not saying anything new, and I’m not complaining about the beauty behind some of the songs, movies, and themes. At the same time, I have found myself seeking ways to bring back the joy of the season, and here is a glimpse at what I found.

The reason for the season is that God became man. I think it is easy for people who have been Christian for their entire lives to forget what this means. By this I mean that it has become a fact. It is no longer a mystery that brings a sense of awe and amazement. If it has become a fact, it is easy for it to be something we take for granted, even if we make Jesus the reason for the season.

In order to fully appreciate the meaning of Christmas, we must spend time pondering the fact that the creator became a part of his creation. He became one of us. He emptied himself, and took on the form of man. Philippians 2:7.  Not only did he take on humanity, but he who had the power to become the greatest of us in wealth and power, came in the form of a powerless baby. He came to us as one of the poorest of the poor. He came to us as the almighty and all-powerful God, but he didn’t lord it over us. He came even though he knew we would reject him. He came even though he knew how we would treat him. He came to teach us how to live in the fullest sense. He came that we might have life. He came to correct all that is wrong in our life, and show us the way to life eternal life with him. How amazing is this?

As you ponder these things, I invite you to challenge yourself. Are you using just your brain? Because if you want to experience what I’m talking about, you must imitate Mary who pondered the things she kept in her heart. Don’t just use your brain. Bring your heart into the matter. In doing so, you should experience a sense of joy that goes beyond earthly joy. You will experience the true joy of Christmas, a God who came to earth, and after living, dying and rising, took up residence in the hearts of all who believe. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering the reason for the season, the incarnation. This mystery should fill your heart with a supernatural joy. Does it? Has our culture hardened your heart against supernatural joy? If it has, ask the Holy Spirit to replace your stoney heart with a new one. If you are able to experience the joy, spend as much time as you can rejoicing in the mystery of Christmas. Let your heart and soul be filled with amazement. Spend some time creating a plan for a better incorporating this mystery into the remaining holiday season, and try to find ways to share this supernatural joy with others.

In Him,

dw 

Peace On Earth

Have you ever pondered why we don’t have peace on Earth? I mean, Jesus tells us that his kingdom is now, and the Bible helps us to understand that one of the fruits of living in the kingdom is peace. So where is it?

For my perception, we live in a world that suggests that our ability to feel peace requires the proper circumstances. However, I’m here to tell you that peace, to some degree, is a choice, and regardless of our circumstances, we can choose to live a more peaceful existence. Of course, I fully recognize that the perfection of the kingdom of God comes in the next life, but we can obtain a great amount of peace while we wait.

How do we achieve a greater degree of peace in our lives? Let’s start with the small stuff. Sometimes we lose our peace because we don’t like what’s happening around us. For instance, we can lose our peace when someone cut us off in traffic. If we quickly forgive that person and ask the Holy Spirit to help us re-establish our peace, we will be successful.

Of course, there are larger things that can destroy our peace, and these things are not as easy to overcome. Let us take financial difficulties as an example. It is easy to feel anxious when we do not feel like our financial needs are being met. I think this is especially true when others are depending on us. However, when we focus on the fact that God is in charge, and he uses all things to our good, we can find greater peace in our circumstances. His ways are beyond us, but when we learn to trust in him in all things, we will find ourselves living with a greater degree of peace.

This is not always as easy as I make it sound, so I’ll share with you one of my secrets. When I feel anxiety, I often find myself meditating on the phrase, “my Jesus, I trust in you.” I say this over and over again, and allow myself to believe in him.  Having said this, I will tell you that the most sure way of attaining peace in the most dire of circumstances is to ask the Holy Spirit to help you find peace in your circumstances. Keep turning back to him, and you will find your way.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit seeking where you find anxiety or frustration in your life. Ask him to help you see where you can live a more peaceful life. Ask him to reveal to you ways that will help you attain a greater level of peace in your life, and then work towards building habits that help you move quickly from frustration and/or anxiety to peace.

In Him,

dw 

Jesus’ Power to Heal

Today I was reading how Jesus healed two blind man because of their faith, and I think back on my childhood, where I chose Jesus, in part, because of the many Biblical promises to keep me safe; to care for me. At some point in my older life, these promises started to look illusory.  Sometimes, it didn’t feel like he was keeping up with his side of the bargain. I spent many years confused by this, and the confused years can sometimes look like lost years. 

As I look back on these events with my current level of understanding the Gospel, I see how these promises, while seemingly false, are still true. The more divine providence makes sense to me, the more I understand that all that happens to me is intended to prepare me for union with him in the next life. All of the caring and healing has to do with helping me reach this goal. All of those lost years are not so lost because he has used them to help me better understand his ways. In addition, I hope he uses them to help others move more quickly beyond their confusion so that they won’t look back with some level of regret over their own lost years. 

Because of all that I see, I can more faithfully pray, “God, heal what you need to heal today in order for me to live a more faithful life today. Help me to seek only what it is that helps me live more fully in your kingdom today. I have faith that you can heal, and that all will be healed when I pass from this life to the next. Heal what needs to be healed today, and help me to patiently and devoutly accept what you allow to remain seemingly unhealed.” 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit asking him to help you see where you have grown disillusioned in the appearance of his broken promises. While you may understand with your mind that his promises are not broken, sometimes when we spend time with the Spirit, we can see where our emotional self is not quite so mature. Be open to what the Holy Spirit has to show you here. Do you have specific things you would like God to heal? Feel free to ask him, but be open to him answering your prayer in a way that achieves your overall objective of being united to him. Make sure that, like the two blind men, you express your faith in his ability to heal you. Then, trust him to do what is best for you in the moment. If you find yourself struggling with any frustration or grief arising because of his decision to do it his way, imagine yourself placing these feelings on the altar or at the feet of the cross. Ask him to help you deal with the emotions that are not in line with your mental decision to accept his promises. Ask him to heal anything that seeks your own will; that prevents you from surrendering to his. In this, I promise he will be faithful. He will heal it, in his time, in his way. 

In Him,

dw 

The Kingdom of Heaven

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says not all who say to me “Lord, Lord,” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. What does he mean by this? Of course, I do not profess to have first-hand knowledge of his meaning, but I do have some theories.

One of my theories has to do with the reason some say “Lord, Lord.”  In listening to various methods of accepting Christ, it sometimes seems that people choose Christ over hell. However, being Christian is about love. It is about having a life changing experience (or experiences) that causes one to love Jesus more than life itself. In fact, the Bible tells us that God is love. Therefore, Jesus is love. How can we spend eternity with love without becoming love ourselves? 

Another theory has to do with whether we understand what we mean when we say ”Lord, Lord.” In effect, we are professing Jesus to be king. We are professing ourselves to be subordinate to the will of the king. I have heard people occasionally objecting to this because God gave us free will; however, when we exercise our free will in order to become subordinate, this is an exercise of free will. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit asking yourself why you have chosen the Christian way of life. Have you had an encounter with God that has caused you to cry out”Lord, Lord” with all your heart? Have you had a life-changing experience that draws you to the heart of love? Are you walking through life with a strong desire to be united to God? Do you find the Lord of lords replacing your stony heart with a real one? Do you regularly spend time seeking the will of God by attempting to hear the will of the indwelling Holy Spirit? Spend some time with the Holy Spirit seeking ways to more firmly elect to call Jesus ”Lord, Lord.” Even if you have made a firm election, it never hurts to spend a few minutes recommitting your life to God. We are all still sinners, and there are always ways to improve upon our commitment to Jesus, and the amount of effort we spend incorporating him into our lives.

In Him,

dw 

Burning Bushes in Modern Times

I love the story of Moses and the burning bush, and I recently heard a new interpretation of this story that suggests that Moses, in his request for God’s name, was trying to control God. The interpretation is based on an understanding that ancient people believed that when you had someone’s name, you had some level of control over that person. Needless to say, one cannot control the great I AM. 

I have spent some time meditating on this interpretation. Through my prayer, I have come to see how easy it is to seek to control God. Of course, this is not how we labeled it, but many of us do it on a regular basis. What I mean by this, is that sometimes we expect God to act a certain way. We expect him to behave in accordance with our belief in how God should deal with the world. When we are unable to control him, to get our way, we become frustrated, and our faith languishes. 

For the most part, this happens at a subconscious level. We don’t always grasp that our frustration with God comes from being disappointed and/or confused that his ways are beyond us. So, in effect, this frustration eats away at our faith at a level that is outside of our awareness.

I believe that one way to counter this negative impact on our faith is to find time to ponder God in his greatness. We can ponder him through meditation on things like his ability to cause a bush to be aflame without burning, the miracles Jesus worked in his time, or in the simplicity and beauty of his creation. By pondering these things, I believe we can touch the hurt areas within us. In so doing, we can learn to bring our entire being into the belief that his ways, while beyond us, are perfect and right. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit and ask him to show you where you might have internal hurts related to God not behaving the way you expected. Ask him to show you ways to bring these to the forefront of your mind so that the two of you can heal these wounds. Ask him to show you examples of burning bushes in the world around you. Ask him to help you see where you implicitly seek to control him or where your expectations of him cause you frustration, doubt, or pain. Ask him to help you trust more fully in his divine providence, and in his love for you.

In Him,

dw 

He Became One Of Us

Have you ever stopped and pondered the incarnation? Have you ever stopped to ask why he become one of us? He is the all-powerful God, and he could have saved us anyway he chose. He chose to become one of us.

I think one of the reasons he came was to empathize with us. While I think it is possible for anyone to have empathy, I think we trust in someone’s empathy more when they have walked in our shoes. So, I believe that one reason he took the form of man was to walk in our shoes so that we could better trust that he understands our plight.

More importantly, he came to show us a new way of living. Human nature is tainted by sin. Sin is rooted in selfishness. Jesus was as unselfish as they come. He stepped out of perfection, and stepped into our sin-tainted world. He lived among us. He was negatively impacted by the sinfulness of humankind, and yet, he did not  resort to sin in his response. He chose to turn the other cheek. He chose not to seek riches and glory in this life. In fact, he gave himself completely in both his active ministry and in surrendering himself to earthly rulers in whose hands he suffered a brutal death. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering the selfless and loving lifestyle of Jesus the Christ. As you ponder his life, ask yourself how you can become more like him. Jot down a couple of notes to capture your thoughts. Place the notes in a place where you will often be reminded of the commitment you make to your Lord and Savior today.

In Him,

dw 

The Call of God

Today we celebrate the feast day of Saint Andrew, apostle and brother of Peter.  According to the Gospel of Matthew, Andrew and Peter were fishing, and Jesus called out to them “come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

The question becomes what does this passage of scripture tell me about the spiritual life? The most striking message, in my opinion, is the simplicity of their lifestyle, which allowed them to quickly abandon all, and follow Jesus. They left their boat and their fishing equipment, and they followed him.

In modern times, I think the question of possessions is one that many Christians ponder. How much is too much? I find this question impossible to answer, and this morning I find myself asking how much is too little? Maybe this is the better question.

As I ponder this question, I see how possessions operate as interference. By example, when we carry a cell phone into a dense forest, the cell coverage can be pretty spotty. The trees interfere with the phone’s ability to connect to the signal. In much the same way, our attachment to our lifestyle can keep us from being open to the call of Jesus.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering your own lifestyle. If Jesus called out to you today, would you be able to walk away from it all and follow him? If the answer is no, consider what you would be willing to give up in order to make yourself more open. If you wrestle with this concept, maybe consider starting today by resolving not to significantly add to that which you have today. In time, come back to the original question, and seek ways to simplify your life as you grow accustomed to the idea of possessions keeping you from being open to the call of Jesus.  Pray to the Holy Spirit to help you be open to leaving behind anything that keeps you from living the fullness of Christian life.

In Him,

dw

Advent, a Time for Hope

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The word “Advent” comes from a Latin word meaning to come, and was typically used in regards to the coming of an important person. So, for the next 27 days, we will be focused on preparing for the arrival of Jesus. Not only do we celebrate his original coming as an infant, but we also anticipate and prepare for his future coming.

Today’s theme is that of eschatological hope, or our hope in the second coming. The Bible tells us we need to be prepared because Jesus can return at any time.  The biblical understanding of hope understands the tension of living in God’s kingdom today, even though it has yet to be fully realized. Living in the kingdom of God indicates that we are living a life of peace and joy. However, some of us allow our peace and joy to be negatively impacted by this tension between the here and now and what is to come.

Let me see if I can explain.  When bad things happen, and by this we might just be talking about a less than ideal situations, it is easy to lose peace because God’s ways are beyond us. We do not always comprehend how he uses these less than ideal events to purify our hearts and to prepare us for his second coming. When we respond to events with discord instead of peace and hope, we prevent God from working within us to the fullest extent possible.  

Alternatively, when one is living by biblical standards, one can achieve a greater level of peace and joy despite what is happening around us. What I mean by this is that when one starts to understand that God has a plan, and that all things work to the good for those who love God, one can start to accept the less than peaceful situations in the world. One can even choose to be at peace despite the tension and discord within one’s environment.

By responding to worldly events with a strong trust in God, we live in the tension of the here and now, while looking towards the fulfillment of God’s reign. We allow him to perfect us in his image, and we trust that his promises of redemption and eternal life will be fulfilled as we allow him to unfold his plan in the here and now.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering how you are living a life of hope in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Do you see the gift of peace in an acceptance of God’s plan?  Do you find yourself living a life that expresses a belief in the second coming, in the creation of a new heaven and earth? Are you allowing him to use the circumstances of your life to prepare you for his coming? Work with the Holy Spirit to find where you need to redirect your life to more fully live in a way that reflects trust in the fulfillment of his promises. Then, make a plan to move your life in a direction of greater trust and hope in God.

In Him,

dw