Thursday, January 16, 2014

Come, Take, Learn

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Mathew 11:28-30 NIV)
Jesus invites us to Himself, to come and take and learn.

Come. This invitation is for those who are “weary and burdened.” The One to whom we are invited to come is the One who bears our burdens. “Cast your burden on the LORD, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:22). “Praise be to the LORD, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:18 NIV). Come, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

Take. We very often think of “give” and “take” as belonging together. When someone gives us something, we receive it by taking it. Here, Jesus promises to give us rest, but then He calls us to take His yoke upon ourselves. This seems a paradox, for a yoke is made for bearing a burden, and we normally think of bearing a burden as the opposite of rest. But here, it is in taking Jesus’ yoke that we find the rest He offers.

Learn. What is the yoke Jesus invites us to take? Read the words again: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” Notice that taking up Jesus’ yoke is not a separate thing but is paired with learning from Him. Back in those days, rabbis spoke of taking the “yoke of the Torah,” that is, of being devoted to learning the law God gave to Moses. However, Jesus’ call to take up His yoke is the invitation to come and learn from Him. The Greek word for “learn” in this passage is mathete (the word for “disciple” is mathetes).

For all who are weary and burdened — and who of us hasn’t been? — Jesus calls us to be His disciples, to come and take and learn Him. Learning Jesus is walking with Him, for a yoke is made for two. But Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light for us because He is the one who carries it. And it is in this way that we discover and experience what is truly rest for the soul.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Message from God in My Heart

I have a message from God in my heart. (Psalm 36:1 NIV)
This morning during my devotional time, I lit my candle, took my guitar and sang a bit in worship and then settled down with my Bible to pray the psalms for the day. Opening to Psalm 36, I read the first line: “I have a message from God in my heart.”

I received such a blast from that, I let out a laugh and sat back with my hands crossed over my heart — because, indeed, I do have a message from God in my heart. So, I let that line percolate in me for a little bit because, regardless of whatever else may be going on in my world, God is always speaking to me, and I carry that message in my heart, the very center of my being.

Marinating in that, I looked back at the psalm to see what the writer had in mind, what the message he was bringing was about. I read the next line: “… concerning the sinfulness of the wicked.”

That did not have the same impact on me as the first line had. In fact, it was a bit of a buzz kill. But I went with it, to understand what message from God was ringing in his heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked. Because I want that message ringing in my heart, too. Now, I’ve prayed through this psalm many times before. In fact, I’ve even written about it a number of times. But as often happens when I am praying the psalms, it came to me with fresh strength.

So, what about the wicked? The writer gives us a rundown in verses 2-4: They are arrogant, self-flattering and deceitful. They have no regard for anything that has to do with God, or for what is good, or for what expresses moral wisdom. Nothing new there. But I do not think that was what the writer came to say. The message in his heart is not about the badness of those who do evil (although they certainly are bad) but about something much greater — the pervasive goodness of God — and beginning in verse, he bursts forth with something very different. There is no segue, no transition — it is as if he were beginning, here in verse 5, a new and very different psalm:
Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.
(Psalm 36:5-6)
Notice that the love of God reaches to the heavens. We might have expected to read that the love of God reaches from the heavens. But the point is not about where it comes from but about what it inhabits. It fills the space between heaven and earth. It surrounds us. There are no boundaries to it and nothing it cannot touch. Likewise the faithfulness and righteousness and justice of God that sets things right.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.
Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
    and your righteousness to the upright of heart!
(Psalm 36:7-9)
Here is something incalculable and infinite, with feasting and abundance and delight. Here is endless source of life, and a light that overwhelms the darkness. And now a request for God to keep on loving with His strong, dependable love and take care of all those who are doing what is right. Oh, and what about the wicked?
May the foot of the proud not come against me,
    nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
See how the evildoers lie fallen —
    thrown down, not able to rise!
(Psalm 36:11-12)
Yes, there are many in the world today who are doing what is evil; there is no need for me to expound on that. But let not your heart be overwhelmed by them, for there is something much greater going on all around you and it will eventually set everything right — the faithful love of God.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Epiphany: The Light Has Come

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:1-6 NIV)
Today, January 6, begins the season of Epiphany, celebrated by the Church around the world. Epiphany means “appearance” or “manifestation,” and in this season we remember how Jesus was first revealed to the world. The story is told in Matthew 2.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)
These wise men were not Jews but men of other nations. They were pagans, which is to say, they had no covenant with the God of the Jews. Yet they came seeking the King of the Jews, for they had seen His star, and they greatly desired to honor Him.

Throughout the Bible, significant shifts among kings and kingdoms were often indicated by the symbolism of stars and other cosmological events. We see this, for example, in Genesis 37, where Joseph’s prophetic dream of the sun, moon and stars depicted his father, mother and brothers all bowing down to him. Or in Revelation 12:1, the great sign that appeared in heaven, of “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars,” bearing the Child (Christ) who is caught up to the throne of God, and from there rules over all the nations of the earth. Likewise, Biblical language about sun, moon and stars being darkened signifies the fall of kings and nations. We can see this in prophecies concerning the fall of Babylon, Edom and Egypt (respectively, in Isaiah 13:10, Isaiah 34:4-5 and Ezekiel 32:7-8).

So, these wise men were watching the stars. But they may also have been aware of a prophecy about it in the Hebrew Scriptures: “A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). Now they had seen that Star and followed on to find the One it represented, who was born King of the Jews.

They went to Jerusalem not because the Star had led them there but more likely because Jerusalem was the capitol city of Judea — and where else would you expect to find the new King but in the capitol city? “Where is He?” they asked. After discovering another ancient prophecy that God’s great Shepherd King was to be born in Bethlehem (which was the “city of David”), the angry and deceitful King Herod (who was not of the line of David) sent them on their way.
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. (Matthew 2:9-10)
Earlier, they had lost sight of the Star when they headed into Jerusalem, but now as they reoriented themselves toward the little town of Bethlehem they saw it once again. They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. Or, to use the words of Isaiah, they looked and were radiant and their hearts throbbed and swelled with joy. And the Star led them all the way to the newborn King.
And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)
In Epiphany, we remember that the promise of Isaiah 60 is being fulfilled. The Star has appeared, the glory of the Lord has arisen and the Light has been manifested in the world, not only to Israel but to the nations. The wise men who followed that Star brought their treasures of gold and incense to proclaim the praise of the Lord and honor the King of the Jews. This was but the beginning, for at the end of the book of Matthew, we find Jesus possessing all authority in heaven and on earth and sending out His disciples to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Random Thoughts

Here are some thoughts to begin the new year, culled from my random file. Some have occurred to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in discussion with others. For your meditation, edification and motivation.
  • Years ago, I got out of thinking about the Christian life as rules and regs and began thinking about it as relationship, because that seems to me to be what the Lord Jesus is about. So I've just been learning to love Him and walk in His love for me, and letting that love overflow in me to others. It is love that fulfills the law and produces in me what the rules and regs never could.
  • A faith that does not change a person is not a faith worth having. It is not a real faith, only a head fake. And a gospel that does not change a person is not good news after all. Neither faith nor the gospel are all in your head, but they show up in your life.
  • Grace is not just God’s favorable attitude toward us but also God’s favorable action on our behalf through Christ, and in us by the Holy Spirit.
  • The Holy Spirit is not “asleep at the wheel” in the life of any believer but is active to bring forth the fruit of love.
  • The heart that is caught up with the love of God does not count out what it gives and carefully weigh it out against what it receives. It loves with abandon.
  • The grace of God is greater than our ability to believe it — or to doubt it.
  • When the heart breaks, there is nothing to do except give it to God.
  • My past is redefined by Christ, my future is redefined by Christ, and so also my present.
  • God is love. To whatever extent we have encountered love, we have encountered God. And to whatever extent we express love, we express God. Love is a revelation of God.
  • God is love. Lord, let me be love, too. Amen.