Light and Heavy

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Sometimes we struggle with understanding the words of Jesus because we look at them through a narrow lens of a single passage. For three years Jesus sat with his disciples, teaching them. His teaching was not fully understood in a moment, and his disciples showed their lack of understanding time and time again.

Each new concept learned can be like a system update calibrating our entire understanding of the Kingdom of God and the life Jesus offers. The disciples, however, had difficulty understanding Jesus’ teachings at every turn. They couldn’t update their understanding with the new information. Even when Jesus didn’t use parables they struggled comprehending. Part of this is Jesus has not yet endured the cross, descended into hell, been raised from the grave, ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit leads us into truth, but like the disciples we often get caught up in drawing conclusions from a single teaching instead of viewing it as a part of the whole teaching of scripture. Jesus gives many statements about following him which when considered in isolation can cause us to form false and conflicting views. One of those concepts visited frequently in Matthew’s Gospel is the difficulty of the way of Jesus. Jesus calls the path narrow and hard, but states his burden is easy.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
– Matthew 7:13-14

There is but one way to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is through Jesus. Many try to fit part of their journey through the wide gate and still follow Jesus but get stuck on the narrow gate because one cannot go through both gates. They do not go to the same place.

Getting rid of everything other than Jesus is how we unburden ourselves before fitting through the narrow gate. Jesus takes our burdens so we can fit through the gate. Without this it is impossible to enter his kingdom.

Many will choose the path where they need not forfeit their life. They define their own path and cling to things the Lord hates. For these, although they wish to follow Jesus, the call is too high, the path too narrow. All they can see is what must be let go of. They do not view it as an exchange but a sacrifice that is altogether burdensome.

When we first confess Jesus is Lord we place our wills in a posture of total release. This is followed up with a constant exchange as the Holy Spirit reveals specific areas of repentance required in a season.

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:25-30

Jesus follows up his statement of the way to life being hard by saying his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. That is enough to confound the wise. How can a way be both easy and hard? If you take a look at the two passages, one describes coming to Jesus, and the other is a commentary of the two gates. Jesus invites us to exchange what is hard for what is easy. But ease is only found through a constant exchange. Any attempt to go the way of Jesus without him is without the rest he provides.

When we remain in Jesus’ rest, our burdens are let down. It is not a place to occasionally visit but a place to remain. We should not depart from the Lord only to return later. We are to remain in the rest he provides in all we do. We remain in his rest as we walk in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The grace of God allows us to remain in his presence even as we are still being sanctified. Remaining in his presence happens by his grace in our obedience and not by our perfection. We live with an easy yoke and a light burden not because the exchange has been finalized but because it is complete according to what is currently required by the Lord. He will initiate new exchanges in every season as we find ourselves continually sanctified.

21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
– Matthew 16:21-23

Peter has formed conclusions about Jesus, about God, that are based on a partial understanding and emotions. He doesn’t want the death of Jesus to be the end result as he still has a view of the Messiah as a conquering King.

This whole interaction is incomprehensible to me. How does Peter show an understanding of Jesus as Messiah in one setting and then challenge his choices in the next? The way Jesus rebukes Peter’s rebuke is fascinating. Peter’s audacity to take Jesus aside shows how thick headed he is. He thinks he understands but still cannot comprehend the way of Jesus.

Peter can’t comprehend how the path of Jesus could be both as conquering king and slaughtered lamb. The heavy cost of the victorious path is not understood. How can this be your end Jesus?

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
– Matthew 16:24-28

The way of Jesus is both light and heavy. The law points out just how heavy the path to life is. It is impossible for man. To go our own way even in the slightest is a burden that overwhelms and takes us off the path to life. You could call it impossibly burdensome to hang on to even a sliver of your own life. But the burden of Jesus is light, his yoke easy.

Jesus never says laying down our lives is easy. It is his cross on the other side that is light. It is where we are at peace and find rest. Peter’s rebuke of Jesus shows he has not yet come out the other side.

In each season of our lives, the Lord continues to sanctify us. The further we move in step with the Lord, the more we realize the freedom which awaits us on the other side of the cross and the more we know his rest is where we need to be. We also know God is not finished working within us. As a result, the mature will quickly turn to the cross, the place of exchange, a familiar place.

“Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” – Psalm 51:11

David cries out, cast me not from your presence. Our home will also become the presence of God. In maturity our desire is to embrace the difficulty of approaching the cross, the place of exchange, bringing our sin and carnal nature and exchanging it for his burden and remaining in the presence of God.

Lord let us not avoid the heaviness of bringing our burdens to the cross. Let us not be cast from your presence, but acknowledge the grace of the season to run to the place of rest and freedom you provide.

My Covid Response

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It has taken me awhile to sit down and write about this Covid-19. Although I have more time on my hands, I always write out of lessons God has walked me through. I write when I feel freedom and clarity to share the lessons I have internalized. I also wait until I get a sense it is the time to share those thoughts with the world. Social Media is my medium for more spontaneous revelation in these days (of which God is sharing in abundance!).

There are two thoughts that keep swirling around in my head. They have become the focus of a lot of phone and video conversations. The first is that this time came as no surprise to God. He has been aware of this moment and season for all of us as individuals, as a society (global and local) and as the church. He has a grace for this moment to usher us into what he has planned for this time. The second thought is that I do not want this season to pass us before we experience the good things he has for us.

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.

Isaiah 40:27-28

This thought that “God is not surprised” brings me such peace. His view is not linear like ours. That is why we can receive prophetic words from him. He shares with us in part as a preparation, but he sees in full. There is no death, job loss, financial crisis, gift, or victory that surprises him. He is sufficient in all of these situations. He is prepared to supply all that I need in any situation. He is sufficient and blessing us in this moment we are in. What he asks is for us to call upon his name and ask for him to provide what we need.

This crisis is doing something extraordinary. It is pulling away those things in this world we cling to for support. Our health, our wealth, our friends and family, our ability to travel and yes, our independence (maybe read back to my last blog). It is revealing the things we think bring freedom and happiness and exposing them as fraudulent. Even movies and TV shows aren’t calming people or giving them life.

There is a beauty in this moment that is stripping away the things that take the place of God in our lives. Those idols we cling to are being shown as worthless and lifeless at this time. Realizing God knew this was coming leads to the beautiful revelation he is ready to take on being God in this moment. As all of those other things aren’t able to provide in this moment, God is. As all of those other things can’t silence the fear, God can bring peace. As all of those idols give no clarity on the future, God brings hope. As all of our healthcare systems are overburdened, God is still our healer, and our future can be secure with the knowledge that eternity is with Jesus!

He is prepared to be the place we turn to.

I have been spending the majority of my scripture time in the story of Moses from the point of the plagues in Egypt to the time that Moses is forced to lead his people in the wilderness. It is interesting God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to letting the Israelites go. There is something God wanted to accomplish in the season before freeing Israel (Exodus 6-12).

“But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses.”
Exodus 9:12

We might think the best thing would be for God to soften Pharaoh’s heart so Israel could leave Egypt right away. But there was something the Israelites needed to learn before their exodus. They needed to see who their God really was. They needed to see his power and his care for them. I think of how he instructed them to put blood over their door frames to be protected from the death that awaited the Egyptians. God was teaching them, there is nothing I can’t do, and you can look to me as your protector and provider. This season became a point to look back to for generations to come as a reminder of who God is. What could have been a quick moment of deliverance, became a lasting reminder of who we can turn to, and that he knows the ending before we do.

The people of Israel didn’t fully learn the lesson and we get a picture of Israel turning to an idol of their own creation when Moses is gone too long (Exodus 32). The high priest himself enabled this rebellion against God. Instead of just glancing over this, God told a whole generation that they couldn’t enter the promised land because of their rebellion.

“because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Hebrews 12:6

Is this because God is a jealous God? Yes and no. Yes, he instructs us to turn from all idols, but it is not out of vengeance but grace that Israel must wander the desert. Like any good parent, God disciplines those he loves. He does this so they (and future generations) will learn to trust him and his ways. Discipline is not a pleasant thing but it is always good from God. Discipline looks like long suffering until the point that we get it. His grace will always sustain us in the suffering and we will turn to rejoice in it.

The dangerous thing about this season is if we let it pass without embracing it, we will be left behind. This is not because God isn’t gracious but because we have refused his love. God does not abandon us, but our rebellion (sin) creates a chasm between us which removes us from his presence. The good news is that at any point we repent that chasm is filled by the cross and we are invited back into his presence and provision. But if we miss that moment of grace we could be left behind until that moment of repentance (or indefinitely).

This is the second thought that has been driving my prayer life. “God, I don’t want to miss what you have for us in this season by your grace. I don’t want this to pass and go forward the same as I was before this. I want your church to embrace the good things and discipline you have for us now! Please don’t let this time end until we have heard and entered into your provision for this season.”

Just like the Israelite in Egypt, I don’t want us to miss the provision of God and be unprepared for the wilderness ahead.

Remember how King Saul lost his anointing? Although he had good intentions, he ignored the instruction of God and didn’t wait for Samuel to offer sacrifices. He offered them himself and then became defensive when he was exposed. It seems like he was given such a short time to repent of what he did, and he lived the rest of his life without the anointing of God. It instead passed to David. I don’t want us to live the experience of Saul! Please don’t let this be us at the end of this season.

I have such hope for the church in this season. My hope is we will embrace a fear of the Lord and a lifestyle of holiness we couldn’t have imagined prior. My hope is we will understand the gospel in a new way and be bringers of hope and peace to everywhere our feet touch. This is the invitation of God. Can you hear it? He has the storehouses of heaven to provide for us. Will that be our provision?

A Life Well Lived

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Success is something that drives many of us. We are prone to compare ourselves to others and strive to accomplish riches and accolades. There is something inside us that desires to be the best, and we kick ourselves when we don’t measure up.

This is a never ending pattern. If we define success by comparing ourselves to those around us, our drive will never be satisfied. We will never be content or at peace in this definition of success.

I was praying with someone recently, and with fresh revelation, discovered a new definition of success. Success is measured by our obedience to God in season. It is not based on our accomplishments. This is not to say there won’t be evident signs. Fruit is a result of our obedience. We will see the evidence of life and abundance in our areas of obedience as we walk in step with God. But fruit does not define the success. The voice of the father saying well done my good and faithful servant is how we define success.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Paul was acutely aware of what obedience looked like in his life, in a larger calling and in specific legs of the race. He understood there were weights and pressures pushing him to pursue other things. But Paul had his eyes set on Jesus. He allowed Jesus to define what success looks like.

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)

Paul gives us a glimpse into what obedience looks like for him. Knowing his call, Paul could look back and measure his success. He could ask,“Have I faithfully testified to the good news of grace?” Paul’s life, as we read in Acts, is defined by this. From the moment he is commissioned, his life is directed and focused on this obedience. He is not comparing himself to others. In fact, he chastises the people of Corinth for looking to him or Apollos rather than to Jesus.

As you have read in my posts to this point, I believe that studying the lives of both the heroes of the faith and our brothers and sisters today is transformative. The purpose in looking at them, however, is not to measure success, but rather to learn how to become obedient to the living God.

Although God does give a lifelong invitation, there is a more seasonal approach to our lives with God. I find that God often shares with me what he wants to teach me, and then refines me in that area.

I remember seasons of learning how to forgive, then having people from my past show up who I had harbored bitterness towards. At these times, my obedience looked like forgiving, and casting my wounds onto the cross, then living in freedom. I remember coming face to face with my doubts about the goodness of God before being given opportunity to trust God is good in a season of both difficulties and blessing.

As God reveals what he wants to teach us or invite us into, we must pay attention to the opportunities which arise. Success is defined by our obedience to his invitation. If he is telling us to stay, we must stay. If he is revealing our need to share the good news of Jesus, we must be vocal. If God is inviting us to learn how to pray, we must be spending time in prayer, discovering new ways to converse with the living God and hear his voice. If he is inviting us to live a life of thanksgiving, we must praise God and share our thankfulness with others.

Success in the world is not evil. Success in career, education, the arts, sports, or whatever you find yourself doing, is not bad. In fact, we should be doing all things as if unto the Lord. Our accomplishments, however, do not define our value or success. The standard we set our lives to is within the kingdom of God and not that of this world. Our pursuit of excellence is good, but we need to make sure that is not how we define success. Obedience does not always create success from the world’s perspective. Jesus tells his disciples, when he sends them out, that some towns will reject them. The disciples are still successful when this happens. It is their obedience and not their being welcomed that has our Lord saying well done.

Success is measured by our obedience to God in season. Our decision making, our focus, our goals should be defined by the invitation of God. The good news is, the grace of God always calls us back to obedience. There is no failure that is final. There is no point in which we cannot come back to the place where God says well done. It takes a moment of repentance and we can step back into a life of success. The weight of failure can be nailed to the cross, and we can continue in the race. We don’t start back at the beginning.

Like Paul, our aim should be to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given us. May we be aware of his invitation in season.