We who preach and write, do so in a manner different from which the Scriptures have been written. We write while we make progress. We learn something new every day. We speak as we still knock for understanding...If anyone criticizes me when I have said what is right, he does me an injustice. But I would be more angry with the one who praises me and takes what I have written for Gospel truth than I would be with the one who criticizes me unfairly. -Augustine

A Double Yoke, Part 2

Yesterday, we considered how Christ will bear our burdens, if we’ll learn from him as he takes the lead.

Once we learn to yield to His desires and direction, we will be able to recognize the enemy’s yoke that shackles and binds without restful consolation. In fact, one of the deceptions of the devil is to force the believer into a pattern of constant and unending laboring which leads to unfulfilled desires. The prophet Haggai stated it succinctly when he commanded, “Consider your ways. You have sown much but bring in little. Ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but are not filled; ye clothe yourself, but are not warm; and ye earn wages, only to put it into a bag with holes.”

Have you ever felt that all of your efforts were being stored in a bag with holes? Matthew 11:29 is the key that patches the holes, replenishes your strength, and allows you to carry your burdens without all the excess weight. But we must first remove the yoke that is binding our lives, and attach ourselves to His yoke. Only then will the burden be bearable. “My yoke is easy . . . My burden is light.” Note that it is clearly His yoke and His burden. He never intended for us to carry this weight alone.

As I ponder the closing of this moment, I must confess that this past month has been one of the busiest in my life. It has also been one of the most burdensome. As the needs to the ministry have continued to grow, and the doors of opportunity continued to open, the more effort I exerted, and the less time I have spent “learning from him.” The busyness of life can be so deceptive. Whether you are a mother of nine children, a father with young children and a new business, a pastor, or a teacher, the more time you spend with the Savior, the easier the burden is to bear. It was John Wesley who said, “I have so much to do that I spend several hours in prayer before I am able to do it.” D. L. Moody wrote, “he who kneels the most, stands the best.”

Published in: on November 18, 2010 at 3:16 am  Leave a Comment  

A Double Yoke, Part 1

A Double Yoke, Part 1

“Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-29).

Why would anyone want to put a yoke around their neck when they are already overburdened and weighed down? Jesus says that He is meek and lowly and then offers you this yoke to put on. As if you weren’t carrying enough weight already!

The yoke in Matthew 11 is not a typical yoke. For my urban readers, a yoke is a wooden collar that is placed upon a beast of burden that carries the load of his master. The yoke that Jesus is describing is similar, but with one exception. Jesus’ yoke is a training yoke. It is a double yoke that was used to attach a pulling heifer with a young heifer-in-training. As both animals were yoked together, the young heifer would follow the steps of the pulling heifer, side by side. The pulling heifer pulled most of the weight of the burden; thus, the significance of Jesus’ statement, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden (burdened), and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you.” In other words, “Come alongside of me, and I will carry the weight of your burden.”

If the training heifer had tried to take the lead, however, he would have suffered the burden of all the weight. So it is today with many Christians who take the lead and follow their own path in life. Are you tired and burdened? Are you finding that your laboring leaves you little or no strength? The path that leads to rest is found when we are yoked side by side with Jesus–learning from Him–letting him take the lead.

Published in: on November 17, 2010 at 2:57 am  Leave a Comment  

The Push of a Button

When you’re tired, isn’t a soft recliner and your favorite tv program the perfect activity?

Researcher Robert Morse believes TV saps cognitive strength. He contends the consequences of TV are analogous to the situation in nursing homes where inactivity leads to cognitive impairment. After an hour or two of TV watching, people come away cranky, irritable, tired, and ready to explode. This is to be expected since the basic technology of TV is used in more advanced forms of mind control.

Lawrence Kohlberg in his research states, “By contributing to cognitive impairment, mass media of entertainment has a deleterious effect on a child’s moral, social, emotional, and religious development.” Dr. Ted Baehr states in his book, The Culture-Wise Family, “With regard to social and emotional development, a child needs dramatic play to develop these areas, but dramatic play . . . is inhibited by watching TV or movies. Watching social interaction on TV is not enough, because a child must do or act.” They must be more than an observer, or their social, emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual growth will be impaired.

Baehr continues by saying, “In the case of psychological maturation, the necessary function of suppressing detrimental functions of the libido is impaired because TV, and other mass media, indulge these detrimental functions. With regard to religious development, impairment of the symbolic function results in the “clogging of the filters of religious perception” so that the child’s doorway to experience the transcendent is blocked . . . TV inhibits a Christian ontology and worldview.”

This probably isn’t surprising but what is alarming is that very few are doing anything about it. Paul states in Ephesians:

“‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:14b-17).

Maybe, knowing the Lord’s will is just the press of a button away.

Published in: on November 16, 2010 at 3:13 am  Leave a Comment  

A Soft Answer

A Soft Answer

When our children have committed an offense, how do we respond? The natural tendency of our flesh is to protect ourselves and our image, allowing anger to escalate and tempers to flare in order to avoid the real heart issue. In self-preservation we insist on having the last word rather than seeking to understand. Too often self-love hinders our ability to reach the hearts of our children. But God’s Word tells us that a soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger. We must break down the barriers that squelch communication, and once again bring about an environment in which we can look beyond the offense and into the heart. No matter how wrong they may be, we are now controlled by the Spirit of God-not by our own selfish heart-and are in a position to provide guidance.

When the prophet Nathan confronted King David with his sin, he didn’t become irate. Rather, he approached David with a story and concluded with the simple statement: “You are the man.” A simple story and a simple statement were all it took to break the heart of the king.Just as Nathan used wisdom when dealing with David, we too can help our children through words that convey wisdom and truth.

If anger consistently controls your life and bears its ugly head whenever you are confronted with a challenge, perhaps now is the time to seek help from a godly pastor, counselor, or wise older couple. Take off your mask and allow yourself to be helped. If we want to be like Christ, then we must be willing to humble ourselves, pray, and seek His help.

It is now time that we confess our faults one to another, and allow God to fill us with His love, joy, peace, longsuffering, and gentleness. It is never too late to change. There is no situation in life that is beyond the life-changing power of our Awesome God!

Published in: on November 15, 2010 at 2:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Swallowing Pride

One evening I shared something with my wife that had been bothering me. As she responded defensively, my first reaction was to defend my position with a gentle rebuke. My rebuke, however, added more fuel to the fire, and it was evident that we would not be going to dinner as planned.

My mind raced for a contingency plan. I had two choices: I could hold on and not cave in, taking a stand that what I had said was in the right spirit and that she needed to hear it, or I could seek first to understand before being understood. As I look back on my marriage, I realize that if I had sought to understand before being understood, I would have prevented years of conflict. Unfortunately, I was too proud to admit wrong. Proverbs 13:10 states that “Only by pride comes contentions . . . .” Conflicts are the result of pride.

As I decided which approach to take, my heart was open enough to seek first to understand. Even though I believed that I was not at fault, I calmly asked if my words were offensive and how I could have approached this differently. Almost immediately, reconciliation was taking root. Deb’s account of what I had said and how I had said it was very different from my perspective. She explained how I could have handled this situation in a more gentler, non-threatening manner.

At this stage there was only one thing left to do. Admit wrong, tenderly apologize for the hurt that I caused, and cautiously ask if she still would like to go to dinner!

Seeking first to understand and then being understood is a vital link to restored relationships. The results are definitely worth the price of swallowing pride. Oh, by the way, we had a wonderful evening–I ordered a salmon salad and Deb had broiled haddock!

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

Published in: on November 14, 2010 at 2:46 am  Leave a Comment  

The Process

The Process

Today I was reading a devotional written by Oswald Chambers and it smacked me right between the eyes. So if you don’t like someone taking a swing at you, you may not want to listen any further. If you can take it, then this is what Chambers had to say.

“Often, Christians think that if Jesus Christ compels them to do something, He will lead them to success in the endeavor, if only they are obedient to Him. If you agree, then you are in for a rude awakening; our dreams of success are not God’s ultimate purpose for us. The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is not of primary importance. What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God often sees as the goal itself.

If I can stay calm, faithful and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me. God is not working toward a particular finish– His purpose is the process itself.

God’s purpose is to enable me to see that He can walk on the storms of my life right now. If we have a further goal in mind, we are not paying enough attention to the present. However, if we realize that moment-by-moment obedience and trust are the goal, then each moment as it comes becomes the real standard of success.”

I think it was Theodore Roosevelt who said that success was failure upon failure with great enthusiasm. He may have been closer to the truth than he realized.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12).

Published in: on November 13, 2010 at 2:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Tunnel Vision, Part 2

Tunnel Vision, Part 2

Yesterday I explained how my dad had asked me to dig a trench under the patio in order to lay a new sewer line. With one week to complete the project, I spent most of my time devising an easy way to complete this insurmountable assignment. With just two days left, I still hadn’t found a solution to my dilemma.

After digging down one foot I knew this was impossible. Surely, Dad would understand. Well, he didn’t! As soon as he came home, he went out to inspect my work. Without saying a word, he began digging.

“What’s wrong with him?” I thought. “Go ahead and dig–you’ll see!” But the dirt was flying and Dad was digging. He had worked hard all week. All I had done was work hard to figure out how to get out of work. After about twenty minutes, I couldn’t take it anymore. I took the shovel out of his hand and began digging.

From 7:00 until 11:00 pm, I worked vigorously. I was more than halfway under the patio, now digging with a coffee can. At 1:00 am, my head poked through to the other side-I did it!

As soon as my head poked through, I noticed a light from above. It was my dad shining his flashlight down on me. He was watching the entire time from the bedroom window, and when he saw me break through, he proudly applauded!

That experience changed me. Part of my character was forged, which has been an essential component of my life ever since. You see, “The testing of your faith produces hopeful endurance. But let hopeful endurance have its completed work, so that your moral character may be complete and perfectly sound, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:3, 4)

Work truly is a gift of God–and for those who endure, there is light at the end of the tunnel!

Published in: on November 12, 2010 at 2:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Tunnel Vision, Part 1

As I reflect back on my childhood, there is one thing I remember vividly–WORK! My mother had me vacuuming floors as early as I can remember and doing those dreaded socks was cruel and unusual punishment. As I grew older, my father always had something planned for the weekend . . . landscaping, mixing concrete, digging holes for new trees, or loading rocks for the drainage ditch.

There was something else that I remembered growing up and that is that I hated to WORK! Can one really grow to love work? Isn’t work part of the curse? Absolutely not! Work is not only for enjoyment but is a gift of God according to the Preacher in Ecclesiastes. (2:24-26; 5:19) If this is true, then why do so many see work as a curse, just waiting for Friday to come?

I can still remember the day when work turned from drudgery to joy. I was twelve years old, and we needed a new sewer line for our house. Rather than digging up our newly paved driveway, my father decided that a tunnel could be dug under our thirty-foot-long concrete patio, thus redirecting the sewer line.

My dad was an iron worker, and since this was his busiest time of year, he asked me to dig the tunnel before he came home the following week. With a smile, he assured me that it could be done, “one shovelful at a time.” Immediately I began to plan how this could best be accomplished, or rather, how I could do the job with the least amount of work. I remember thinking that there must be a machine that could burrow under this patio, and with the press of a button–presto–it would be done.

After digging into solid clay, I realized immediately that this was an impossible task. Once dad saw the clay he would surely come to his senses. Well, dad came home that Friday and what happened next would change my work ethic and life until this very day . . . and tomorrow you’ll know the rest of the story.

Published in: on November 11, 2010 at 3:11 am  Leave a Comment  

The Shepherd and His Sheep: Lost and Found

The Shepherd and His Sheep: Lost and Found
Part 3

Back to yesterday’s story of the lost lambs. I still hadn’t found my lambs, so I put up a “Lost Sheep” sign at the local post office. Yes, the sign created quite the discussion piece in our inquisitive little town.

Well, the very next day I received a phone call from the post office-they knew where my lambs were. I was ecstatic-until the postmaster apologized, saying that though she knew where they were, she was unable to reveal the information. I proceeded to tell her that kidnapping was a federal offense, as well as being an accomplice-especially for postal workers! After a hearty laugh, she told me her reason for withholding the information.

On Easter morning the eight-year-old daughter of a single mom discovered in her backyard a most wonderful surprise-two lost lambs. The little girl believed that they were God’s gift to her! She ran into the house shouting for her mom to come quickly! God filled the heart of a lonely child with great joy that day!

But the next day, this same mom had gone to the post office to pick up her mail. She saw the “Lost Sheep” sign I had posted, and hesitated, seemingly deep in thought. She must have been disappointed, knowing she would have to tell her daughter that she must give up her lambs. After a few moments she decided to ignore the sign and keep the lambs. The postmaster had been watching her interesting expression as she read the sign, and realized that she might have the lost sheep. That’s when she called me. I assured her that I wouldn’t dream of taking the lambs away from this child.

Through this experience I have had a wonderful opportunity to build new friendships and to minister to hurting hearts. My loss became a child’s treasure and gift from God-and an open door to “Feed My lambs.”

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

Published in: on November 9, 2010 at 2:40 am  Leave a Comment  

The Shepherd and His Sheep, Part 2

The Shepherd and His Sheep: Safe and Secure

Part 2

Yesterday I told you of my lambs who scaled a five-foot wall to make their escape. After searching through the night, I still had not found them. The next morning the search continued, but they were nowhere in sight. They were afraid, and had not yet put their trust in the shepherd.

When we are afraid, we too run away from the safety and security of the Good Shepherd because we haven’t learned to trust Him. Though He demonstrated the greatest evidence of sacrificial love, for some reason we run from His protection. But our Shepherd will not leave us alone–He will leave the ninety-and nine and seek that one which is lost.

Has the Good Shepherd placed you in a new environment? Are you facing new and unfamiliar experiences? Do these changes bring fear? Remember, perfect love casts out fear! God loves us with a perfect love, and always has our best interests in mind. He knows us and loves us with an everlasting love! And no matter how far we run, or where we hide, we should be mindful that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8).

When we are filled with fear, let us consider the words of our Good Shepherd before we run: He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them close to his heart, and gently lead those that have young.” “Fear not, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 40:11; 41:10)

Published in: on November 8, 2010 at 10:30 pm  Leave a Comment