How do you carry your load?



I think we all know what it feels like when someone says “How are you??” and we answer “Great! How are you?” and they say “Not bad!” and then we just keep on talking, like we didn’t just tell each other a great big lie. Know what I’m talking about? 

God has worked miracles in my (and my family’s) life over the past year or so. Some of them are bigger and more obvious than others, but as I began reflecting on the things I’ve prayed for, asked others to pray for, worried about, lost sleep over, etc. for the past 18 months, it’s amazing how many ways God has answered prayers. 

What I want to share with you today is that many of these prayers didn’t even come from me. 

“Wait – How can God answer prayers you didn’t even pray?”

Glad you asked. 

There was a time just over a year ago when I was facing so many difficulties at the very same time that it was literally weighing me down. There were some days that I was so overcome with fear and anxiety that I was unable even to think about moving forward. I’ve never actually been in quicksand, but I’ve seen it on movies, and if I had to describe the way I was feeling, it was that I was stuck in quicksand – unable to get out and sinking. 

I remember one particular Sunday at church when I ran into someone who I would describe as an acquaintance. We were introduced through a mutual friend and had visited before, but hadn’t really connected on any personal level. On this Sunday we found ourselves in a time and place that allowed for conversation. She asked me how I was doing. I looked at her and said, “Actually, I’m having a really hard time.” I shared with her what was actually going on, how hopeless it all seemed and how stress was eating me alive. I cried and she cried. She prayed for me – right then and there. She asked God very specifically to provide for needs I had indicated were the most pressing. She hugged me, and then she THANKED me. I said, “For what??” And she said, “For sharing your burden with me. For allowing me the opportunity to pray with you.”

I’ll never forget that conversation, although over the last several months we’ve had so many more that I can’t recount them all. We have shared many burdens with each other, prayed for each other, rejoiced with each other and mourned together as well. 

Sharing burdens isn’t easy. It requires humility and faith. (Neither of those virtues is over-abundant in my heart.) 

There’s a saying that “God never gives you more than you can handle.” This is one of those sayings that felt like a Bible verse but I had no idea where it was. Being a sophisticated researcher, I googled the phrase. It turns out that it’s not technically a Bible verse. In my search results I found a devotional written by a pastor on the topic. He wrote:

We will face adversity in our lives. We will experience hardships. We, or someone we love, may face terminal illness. We may struggle with debilitating depression or suicidal thoughts or grief so heavy that we feel we’ll suffocate. We may walk through financial circumstances where it seems there is no way out. If we are like most human beings, at some point we absolutely will face things that are more than we can handle. The promise of Scripture is not that we won’t go through hard times. . . . What Scripture does promise is that at all times, good or bad, God wants to be our help and our strength. 
It’s not that God won’t give you more than you can handle, but that God will help you handle all that you’ve been given.

Rev. Shawn Coons

My prayer today is that none of you have burdens you are bearing alone. If you do, look for an opportunity to share them with a fellow believer. Conversely, look for ways to help carry another’s burden. The burden is much lighter when it’s not carried alone.

Matthew 11:29-30 – 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.

Psalm 68:19-20 – Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.

Psalm 55:22 – Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.

1 Peter 5:6-7 – Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Isaiah 46:4 – Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Galatians 6:2 – Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Romans 8:18 – I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Proverbs 12:25 – Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.

The Betrayal of Jesus

Today’s reading is John chapter 18.

A couple of weeks ago my family had dinner with one of my co-workers and her family. My 5 year old son, Samuel, who is outgoing and oftentimes precocious, asked my co-worker where she went to church. She answered him that they don’t actually go to church anywhere. He brightened up and said, “You should come to my church! You can learn about Jesus and His love for you!”

(I’ll tie that in later on)

Have you ever seen the movie The Passion of the Christ? I only watched it once – in the theater the weekend it was released (over 14 years ago). Reading John 18, I couldn’t help but visualize the betrayal of Jesus by Judas and then by Peter by the imagery portrayed in that movie so long ago. I find myself thinking – HOW? How could these men who knew Jesus betray him this way?? Not just Judas – but also Peter, denying that he was a disciple, not once – but three times. I tell myself that surely I would never deny my Lord and Savior like that.

But how often do I take an opportunity to proclaim the love of Jesus to people? Not as often as I’d like to think, if I’m being honest with myself. In fact, I don’t even put one of those cool magnetic “e” things on the back of my car because I don’t really want to have people watching my driving and knowing where I go to church. Is that a betrayal of Him? Probably not an intentional, outright denial – but I think it can be an easy slide. Here I am, living on earth a very temporal life, KNOWING that everything I have and love is only mine for a very short time, and that eternal life is guaranteed and freely given. Not just for me, but for anyone and everyone that accepts Jesus as their personal savior.

Here’s where I tie in my earlier anecdote. If Samuel had been asked if he knew Jesus, he would have shouted with a glad heart that he did. Would I? Probably not. Granted, Samuel at age 5 wouldn’t have understood that being associated with Christ would have been treated like a crime. I would have (and so did Peter). Thinking about this reminds me of Jesus telling us, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:14

In verse 37, Jesus tells Pilate, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

As you go about your busy Tuesday, reflect on these things. Think about whether your actions bear witness to the truth or whether they are a betrayal.

Lord, thank you for coming into this world to bear witness to the truth. Thank you for the unbelievable gift of your life and blood for our sins to be wiped clean. Let your truth light the darkness in our daily lives, and let us proclaim your love and faithfulness at every opportunity, without hesitation and without shame.

 

John 6

This past weekend was rough for me. I’ve been sick for two weeks, and was looking forward to rest. In the middle the day on Friday I received a message that I would be entertaining houseguests and that they would be at my house before I even got home from work that day. Then, three of four kids got sick over Saturday night with fevers and stomach virus symptoms. Not only was I tired and sick myself, I was now up through the night nursing sick babies and cleaning up the symptoms from beds, carpet, etc. Having to prepare food and be hospitable in the middle of everything (especially when this was an unplanned visit) was not an easy task for me. On top of all of that, it has been decided that I am to host a Thanksgiving meal next week as well. Instead of looking forward to the holiday, I’m dreading it. I’ll be working long hours straight up until the night before the holiday. Finances are tight, and trying to squeeze extra groceries out of the budget to host people here is making me feel very stressed. And, as commercials and marketing media are constantly reminding me, Christmas is right around the corner. Yet another holiday for me to spend working, cooking, cleaning, and trying to find a way to squeeze gifts for everyone out of a budget that is stretched to the max.

I cannot stop asking myself, “HOW ARE WE GOING TO GET THROUGH THIS?”

I am well aware how whiny and self-indulgent these thoughts are. But they’re real and they’re my current struggles.

So, reading John 6, here’s how the Holy Spirit spoke to me in my self-pity mode.

This crowd of 5,000 people has gathered to listen to Jesus. We don’t really know where they all came from, or why they all ended up there being unprepared to feed themselves, but for whatever reason that was the situation. The disciples – who have been watching Jesus heal the sick and perform countless other miracles – start getting all worked up about how they were going to feed this crowd. Jesus just has them get all the people sat down and commands that the five loaves and two fish be broken and distributed.

Can you even imagine this scene? 5k+ people and 5 loaves of bread with 3 fishes.

But after the food was passed around, there were leftovers.

He provided.

The people in the crowd, having eaten their fill of this miraculous meal, tracked Jesus down the next day. Jesus admonished them saying,

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Why is it that I continue to doubt God’s faithfulness? Why do I wonder how we will eat, or how we will make it through another rough time? Hasn’t he shown me over and over again that he provides for us? Haven’t I seen miracles in my own life and in my family’s lives over and over again?

Lord, thank you for providing our daily needs. Thank you for your abundant grace. Forgive my doubt and worry. Turn my focus to the food that endures and never perishes. Let me desire the bread of life more than I desire material things. Thank you for your words in scripture and for brothers and sisters in Christ constantly encouraging and praying with me.

A less complicated Faith

Luke 18 recounts three parables – The parable of the Persistent Widow, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, and the Rich Ruler. When I read through this chapter, each parable illustrates a different lesson to me and has applications that could easily be a separate post for each parable.

In addition to the parables, this chapter has two separate accounts of Jesus interacting with people who were coming to him. The first is found in verses 15-17: “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him saying, Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 

At the end of the chapter, in verses 35-43, Jesus heals a blind man. “As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight, your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.”

These two accounts really struck me today. Jesus, in rebuking his disciples for trying to keep the children away, says that the kingdom of God belongs to such as them. I think of my little guys, aged 5 and 3, and the conversations we have about Jesus. Their faith is not hindered or limited in any way by the kind of boundaries that grown-ups are. When they pray they are not concerned with using the right words – they just talk to God like they would talk to anyone else. My son Samuel told me he doesn’t want to wait until he’s “really old and dead” to see Jesus, he wants to go be with him in heaven now! Obviously, I don’t want Samuel to meet Jesus yet. But I love that in his heart right now he is so excited and passionate about being with someone simply because loves him.

When the blind beggar shouts to be heard above the crowd surrounding Jesus, he begs for mercy. I noticed that his request was not specific. Jesus asked him what he wanted to be done for him, and he simply requests to be able to see. Jesus immediately grants the request, telling him “your faith has made you well.” We don’t know much more than that the man was blind and that he was begging. The disciples tried to keep him away from Jesus, I assume believing him to be a hassle. What Jesus saw was his faith.

I have this hang-up about approaching God in prayer. It’s so hard for me to go to him and ask for things knowing that he knows my sin. Some irrational part of me thinks I need to make myself “worthy” of his attention. But Jesus doesn’t measure worth the same way I do. He doesn’t require me to act a certain way, use a required formula of words + actions before he’ll listen to me, or even wait to be heard. The children simply wanted the touch of Jesus. They couldn’t have had any great theological understanding of anything. They just wanted to be in his presence. The blind man wasn’t hampered by his status in society from requesting mercy – he believed Jesus could heal him and so he asked for healing.

Do you approach the Lord like a child? I don’t, at least not often. I think about the words I use when I pray, I feel guilty if my requests seem frivolous, I compare my situation with those in worse situations, and question whether my petitions are worthy of even being heard.

My prayer today is for my faith to be more like a child’s. To strip away all of the baggage that I carry around in my mind and heart, and just be with him in conversation, feeling the comfort of his touch.

 

What kind of fruit do I produce??

Our reading this morning is the sixth chapter of Luke. Read through this and you’ll find some very familiar passages – the Beatitudes, the “love your enemies” quote, the “judge not” directive, and more. Verses 43-45 are my focus today.

For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Have you noticed that the teaching of Jesus sends those with questions about other’s sins directly back to look at themselves? Jesus doesn’t focus on how to fix other people. Earlier on in this chapter he tells us to love our enemies, to give them our coats if they are cold and our food if they are hungry. He doesn’t tell us to examine whether they are worthy – just to love them. Then he warns us that if we judge others, we should be prepared to be held to the same standard of judgment we use on those we judge. Following that is this analogy of our hearts and actions to a tree bearing fruit.

Jesus is pointing us inward – He is telling us that our actions and words are a direct reflection of what is in our hearts. Of what we value and treasure. He wants our actions to be good – but that’s not enough. He wants us to know that it is what we love – WHO we love – that matters. That by treasuring and focusing on what matters, our actions (our fruit) will be good.

Lord – help me to treasure your promises and gift of salvation above all else. Let me be concerned more about my own heart than about the actions of people around me. Help me to live in this world as someone who loves you so much that my mouth speaks love and my actions show it. 

Let the Children Come to Me

Today’s reading is the 10th chapter of Mark. There are so many topics and lessons packed into this chapter that’s it’s difficult to focus on one for today’s devotion! Jesus talks about divorce, wealth, his upcoming death and resurrection, and heals a blind man.

Verses 13-16 are my focus today.

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

I love to imagine what it must have looked like to see Jesus surrounded by a group of children vying for his attention, excited to see him, calling out his name, wanting to sit on his lap and hug his neck. The disciples must have thought Jesus was much too busy and important for this. The word in this version describes Jesus’ response to the disciples rebuking the children as “indignant” – how dare they send away the little children! Not only did Jesus want them to be near to him, he then tells us that the children are a faith standard. I think of this often when talking about Jesus with my children. They aren’t worried about theology, commentaries, scientific proof, etc.

Instead, they focus on the simple truths and cling to them. God is everywhere. God sees and hears everything. God forgives us when we’re sorry. God wants us to obey, but loves us even when we don’t. God knows ALL the animals in the whole world. God is always with us, even when we’re scared or having a bad dream.

As I think of the different conversations I’ve had with little people about Jesus, I’m struck at how much they know so early on. They aren’t riddled with doubt about his existence or omnipotence – they simply accept it as fact and embrace the amazing truth of his love.

Try looking at Jesus through the eyes of a child today. Think of how awesome his creation is, how exciting his promise of eternal life is, and how sweet it is to know for sure we have a Father watching out for us all the time.

 

Prayer of Submission

Matthew 26 covers the last days of Jesus with his disciples, the betrayals of Judas and Peter, the Passover when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and the arrest of Jesus. After the Lord’s Supper and before his arrest, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, along with Peter, John and James. Jesus knew what was coming soon. He knew He was to be betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter. He knew He would be sentenced to death on a cross like a common criminal. He knew there would be excruciating physical pain and torment. He knew this had been ordained of His life since before His birth. He also knew that the Father was in control of all of this – that if He willed it, the Father could remove this burden from Jesus.

v. 38-39 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

The concept of Jesus as man in the flesh, yet part of the triune God is not easily comprehended by my finite mind. Jesus the man is crying out to God the Father asking that the work he was sent to earth to accomplish be taken away, but more importantly, recognizing that even though this may have been possible, it may not have been God’s will.  “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus was sorrowful. He was desperate. He was lonely. He, the son of God, asked something of God (that he knew God could do) yet he submitted himself to God’s will.

We know that Jesus suffered, died and rose again. We know that he sits at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus knew what his life on earth and death were meant to accomplish. But he was still sorrowful. He still asked God to take away his pain. Struggling with what God calls us to do is not a sin – if it were, then Jesus – who never sinned – would have been wrong in this prayer. I do not think that God (who knows our hearts, minds and souls completely anyway) is disappointed in us when we despair or struggle. It is when we refuse to submit to his will that we sin.

I challenge you (as I am challenging myself) to remember to include this line in your prayers and supplications to God, “not as I will, but as you will.” Ask for the desires of your heart, beg for mercy and healing and relief. But follow that up with a sincere acknowledgement that God may not have the answers you think you want in mind.

Great is His Faithfulness

Today’s reading is Matthew 14. This chapter tells of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus feeding the crowd of five thousand and Jesus walking on water. It’s a lot to fit into one post! One thing that really stood out to me in this reading is what Jesus said to Peter about doubt and faith.

Verses 25-33: And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

I’m struck by Peter’s actions. He wants Jesus to prove himself to them – and pretty much challenges Jesus. So Jesus tells Peter to come out onto the water. What really strikes me here is that Peter does it! He has enough faith to step out of the boat and start walking toward Jesus. His faith there is strong and his eyes are on Jesus. But then Peter notices the wind (and waves, no doubt) and his fear takes over. He takes his eyes off of Jesus and begins to sink. But he cries out to Jesus to save him before he drowns, and IMMEDIATELY Jesus reaches out and saves him.

It’s hard to put into words how I see this story in reflection to my own faith. It’s not a one-time thing – it’s a daily (and usually multiple-times-daily) situation. I love Jesus. I am a believer and a Christ-follower. There are times when my faith feels very strong. But the very second I lose sight of Him, things spiral out of control – I begin to drown. And that panic and desperation from not being in control cause me to cry out to Him for help. And this is what I really love – He immediately reaches out to me. Jesus didn’t let Peter drown, but he did let him begin to sink when he lost focus. I could give you hundreds of stories of how I’ve begun to sink when I lost focus too. Probably more, if I took the time to really think about it. But what really counts is the end of each and every one of those untold anecdotes – Jesus has never failed me when I’ve turned my eyes back to Him.

Peter’s faith was like mine – small and incomplete, mixed with trust and doubt. And no matter how strong or weak our faith might be, our Savior is one who will rescue us regardless of our struggle with doubt. His faithfulness to us is not dependent on ours to Him.

My grandma’s favorite hymn is “Great is Thy Faithfulness” – it’s been swimming around in my head while I wrote this post. If it’s not one you know, listen to it today if you get a chance.

 

Faith enough to hear

Matthew 2

I usually associate the story of the wise men bringing gifts to Jesus with the season of Christmas. Reading and contemplating this passage in the middle of August, especially meditating on it with the concept that we are reading “all the words of Jesus” the text has new meaning to me.

The brief synopsis is that these wise men – or “magi” – from the east have seen a star which somehow reveals to them that it marks the birth of the son of God. These men follow the star and end up in Jerusalem. They begin asking in Jerusalem where they might find the newly born king of the Jews. The priests come together and advise King Herod that the prophesies say that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem, so King Herod sends the wise men off to find Jesus. They do – and they bring him gifts and worship him. The Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and warns him of the danger to the infant Jesus by King Herod’s intentions. Joseph and Mary leave in the night with Jesus and stay away in Egypt until the Lord reveals in another dream that it is safe to return to Israel.

When I read this chapter, I’m struck by the amount of faith-driven action. The wise men see and recognize the star of Bethlehem to be a sign that the savior was born. The prophets had written that this would take place thousands of years before – but these men knew the promises God had made and understood the sign that had been given them to be something worth following.

Joseph recognized the dream he had about the danger to his young child to be a direct message from the Lord, and Mary had faith that Joseph knew what he was doing in uprooting the family and moving to a foreign land. Then, years later, Joseph is told in another dream that the danger is over and to go back to Israel, picking up his family and moving yet again.

The faith of these individuals caused them to be able to hear God’s voice, to recognize His signs, and to act in full obedience without doubt. Later, Jesus talks much about faith – it is the link between us here on earth and the Lord God on high! The faith we see in the actions depicted in this chapter is not weak. It is strong enough to silence any and all doubt. This faith demanded immediate action.

Reflect on the faith of those who God chose to be such prominent players in the earthly life of his son Jesus. The level of faith these people had enabled them to take immediate action on something that – to many others (probably most others) would have been ignored, or at best thought about then tucked away.

I wonder what all the Lord is saying to me that I would be able to hear if I had the faith to listen?

He is our Advocate

1 John 2:1-6

Whenever I’m in trouble, it always helps to know another person is on my side. When I was little, my big sister (who was almost never in trouble) could be a big help to me if she had my back when it came to my parents. As I got older, depending on the circumstances I would usually go to my mom with my problem first, working her over to my side somehow before my dad got involved. If she was on my side, even a little bit, it made things go smoother when I had to fess up with Dad. As an adult, when different things came up and I wasn’t sure how to face them alone, my dad was my go-to. I remember when I was 16 I got a letter in the mail with a traffic citation, claiming I had driven past a stopped school bus. I was terrified. I knew that was a major infraction, and I had no idea what to do. My dad wrote a letter regarding the issue, and the ticket was dismissed without me ever having to step foot in front of a judge.

The character of Christ depicted by John in today’s passage is that of an advocate. One who not only takes on our sin so that we are not burdened by it, but who also intervenes on our behalf with God the Father. How comforting is that??? John is clear – he’s giving us instruction and warnings so that we may not sin – but immediately following tells us that if we do (or rather, when we do) that we are not on our own. If we confess our sins to him, Jesus without fail advocates for us with our Lord. What an amazing thing that is.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.