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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

With so much on my plate at the moment, why in the world am I taking time to blog?  Well, in part because I process best through writing things out.  But also in part because this thought struck me today and if I don’t write it  out it will either be lost like a half dozen other thoughts I’ve had in the past few weeks or it will get added to that hideous never-shortening list of “blogs to write” that I have – and have had for 2+ years now!

Besides, not having time to blog is part of what this entry is about!

I must confess up front that I have missed more than a few Sundays the past couple of months and so was not able to experience the full series that my Sunday School class was doing.  The series is a video series by Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church and it’s called Take It To The Limit. In short, it’s about margin.  Margin is basically what’s left after everything that is needed or necessary is done.  Like financial margin is what you have left at the end of the month when all bills and necessities are paid.  Time margin is not overloading your schedule so that when something important comes up (or a crisis), it can be dealt with.  It’s sort of like a buffer.  And it’s good stewardship.

Today was the last day and as a wrap-up they showed the introductory video because, apparently, they didn’t do it at the beginning (but I wasn’t there then so I wouldn’t know)…

In the intro, Andy took us on a whirlwind tour of the Bible, explaining how God had instructed us to set margin in our lives.  Even in the Law He gave to Israel when they had first come out of Egypt!  They weren’t supposed to live financially at their limit (100%) but were to live off a lower amount so that the margin could be applied to God and His work.  They weren’t supposed to work to their limit, but were to have a day of rest.  Even the land was to have rest at certain intervals!  And on he went…

And then a thought struck me.  Actually, it was a verse.  One he didn’t use at all.  But somewhere from the depths of my being the Holy Spirit dug up a verse I know and made it connect to what was being said.

“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.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I’ve heard this verse explained that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were the ones burdening the people with all their extra rules and that’s why Jesus said “come to Me.”  But looking at the immediate context, that doesn’t seem an obvious connection.  Not that it couldn’t be true, but I’m thinking it wasn’t just extra rules that were a burden – but culture itself pushing people to live at the limit, at the edge.  And that is a wholly unsustainable lifestyle – it’s wearisome!

If Andy is right (and I have no reason to doubt what he was saying today), then all along God has been asking us to step back, to go to Him and to live within boundaries He has set so that there is that buffer -that margin- in our lives.

Like Jesus saying, “Come to me.”

He wants us to take His yoke – as opposed to the one put on us by ourselves, or culture, or our drive to push limits.  Because His yoke is designed to fit us the way He made us.  Needing those margins and those Sabbaths.

Then I looked again at the verse.  “And you will find rest for your souls,” it says.

We tend to over-spiritualize the word “soul.”  Yes, the Greek word does include in its meaning a reference to that “thing” which is distinct from the physical body.  But another meaning in the Greek – and the primary meaning in the Hebrew – comes back to the basic idea of the “breath of life.”

So, to paraphrase, Jesus was saying, “take my yoke… and you will find room to breath.”

Because (and I know this from watching all those crime dramas) if someone sits on your chest or places something heavy on your chest and there is no room to breathe, you suffocate and die.  We need room to breathe.  We need margin.

I need margin.

Especially when it comes to my time, my emotions and my calling.  (I’ve already been working on the financial part.)

So now I need to go to Jesus.  Because I am weary and burdened (especially by all those “ought to”s).  I need to take His  yoke, follow His call, obey His commands… then I will have room to breath and will find rest!

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I believe!

Is it weird that I didn’t even get into the Bible reading portion of my devos today before God started speaking to me?

Last year I was following the daily offices, morning, midday and evening.  And I’m not strictly doing that this year, but as I was coming to my devotional time with my mind already in a thousand places, I began to use the opening prayer of the daily office as a way to focus my thoughts on God.  And recently I’ve been trying to consider it rather than simply reciting it.

To whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life,
and we have believed and have come to know
that You are the Holy One of God.

We have believed and have come to know…

Those words have been sticking out to me for weeks now.  Mostly, I think, because I’ve been in John’s writings for my devotional times and John uses the word “believe” more than any other gospel writer.  In his gospel and in his letters.

And a week or so ago, wondering what John really meant when he used that word over and over and over again, I looked it up in the Greek.  I was surprised – and rather excited – to find that for John (and in general) the word is much deeper than what we in America currently tend to think of or mean by it.

Really, even in our own dictionaries the word is deeper.  But we tend to use it as only a rational word.  Intellectual consent.  Believe is something the mind does.  Or sometimes the heart does.  But we tend to speak of it as one and not the other.

But belief involves the whole person.  It is not simply a rational thought or a heartfelt hope in something.  To believe is to be persuaded of.  To place confidence in.  To trust.  If you believe in something, you’re all in.  Just like a sky diver believes in his parachute.

So this morning as I pondered this “we have believed” part of the prayer, my mind was taken to another Bible verse about belief.

I do believe.  Help my unbelief!

Mark 9:24

This guy isn’t asking Jesus for help making a rational consent.  Or a heartfelt hope.  More than likely, he has one or the other already – and he is asking for help fully placing his confidence and trust in Jesus.

That verse from Mark has meant a great deal to me for the past, oh, decade or so.  It has become a cry of my own heart in many respects.  And in the past few years God has been working in me on these trust issues of mine and continually asking me to trust him more and more….

And here the two collide.

We have believed and have come to know…

I believe!  Help my unbelief!

Lord, help me to believe you and believe in you.  Fully.  With my heart, mind, soul and strength to place confidence and trust in you.  You.

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I’m currently reading through 1 John.  Just a couple verses a day for lectio divina and meditation.  John speaks of one thing more prominently than anything else – in his gospel and in his epistles.  Love.  (Followed closely with belief in Jesus.)

Take one of today’s verses for example:

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

I think I read the word “love” at least once a day – even when I am only doing a verse or two!  And it’s easy, particularly easy in our current culture, to sort of pass over the word.  I mean, really, John?  Love, love, love?  Haven’t you got anything else to say?  Anything more substantial?  Love is so… well, so warm and fuzzy.  Even if we get past the feeling to the action, it still seems so… well, it seems weak.  Like a pushover.  Flimsy.  Why must you keep harping on this love thing?

Or is it that you know something we don’t?  Maybe I’m asking the wrong question here… maybe I should be asking what kind of love you are talking about… if love is so important, well, then, what does that love look like?  What did you see that changed you so much that love has become one of your defining words?

The love that John saw wasn’t a passing feeling.  It wasn’t weak or flimsy or insubstantial.

The love John saw was a God who left His heavenly throne to take on our frail human flesh.

The love John saw had concern for little things, even running out of wine at a wedding.

The love John saw had a righteous anger for the things of God.

The love John saw taught the truth, even when it was hard to understand.

The love John saw spoke hope and life to an outcast among outcasts.

The love John saw made the lame to walk.

The love John saw didn’t make the same assumptions others did, but offered healing.

The love John saw gave people food to satisfy their physical hunger.

The love John saw desired to give the people a food that would satisfy their souls.

The love John saw did not shy away from teaching hard truths, even if it made him unpopular.

The love John saw offered mercy and grace to sinful people on their knees.

The love John saw wept at his friend’s tomb.

The love John saw brought life from death.

The love John saw did a slave’s work, even serving one who would betray him.

The love John saw prayed earnestly for others.

The love John saw sacrificed himself for us.

The love John saw conquered sin, hell, death and the grave!

Yes, this was the love that John saw.

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I didn’t get very far into reading this morning’s section of 1 John when a thought struck me.  Seemingly coming out of nowhere and hitting me upside the head, once it was there I couldn’t believe I had never thought of it before!

It would have been easy to overlook…

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

Yeah, of course, I thought, Jesus died for us and sacrificed himself and we need to do the same.  Easy peasy (mostly because I seriously doubt I’ll ever have an opportunity to physically give up my life for someone else).

But it shouldn’t be that easy, another voice entered into my head.  Is merely thinking that you’d be willing to die for someone really what this is verse is saying?

Um… no?

I looked at the verse again and thought about it some more.  What does laying down one’s life mean?  Does it only refer to physical death?

Jesus physically laid down his life for us.  He took our sins and the punishment for those sins so that we could have a relationship with God.

But it didn’t start there.  Paul tells us in Philippians that Jesus “emptied himself.”  Long before Jesus actually died for our sins, he laid aside his heavenly home, the glory due him, his will (as he submitted to his Father)… Before the nails pierced his hands he arrived on earth as a baby, he walked with us and talked with us and experienced life with us.  He taught and healed and loved.

So maybe when the Bible speaks about us loving others by laying down our lives, it means more than just physically dying for someone else.  Maybe we, too, have to start earlier.

Maybe I need to lay down my wants and desires.

My time schedule and plans.

My selfishness.

Maybe laying down one’s life refers to much more than physical life.

Maybe it begins with simply putting others before ourselves.

Which is where Paul began in his letter to Philippians before he tells of Jesus’ example of both emptying himself and dying on the cross:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

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The other day I was in the bathroom, standing at the sink and I remember looking up and seeing the clock.  And I’m not sure exactly where my thoughts were, but I do remember suddenly thinking, “Jesus, if you – you who are God and Creator – emptied yourself, how much more should I – I who am human and created being – empty myself?”

Then today’s devotional reading was this:

3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very natureof a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

And this thread of thought was so clearly woven.  I need to empty myself.  Or, perhaps more rightly, to be emptied.  And I need to be a bond-servant of God and allow God to make me into the likeness of His Son – the likeness of Jesus.  Emptied of myself, servant of God, re-made into the likeness of Jesus.

And just as this emptying and servanthood and being in the likeness of humans meant humility and obedience and death and a cross for Jesus, so this emptying and servanthood and being re-made into the likeness of Jesus requires humility and obedience and death and crosses for me.

And it is not our names which our exalted.  But we strive to exalt God and to proclaim Jesus so that others will choose to humble themselves now, bowing their knees and confessing that Jesus is Lord.  Now.  While they still have opportunity before the end when they have no choice.  (For there will be a day, the day when Jesus is revealed in His glory – and His glory will be so overwhelming that even those who do not choose to serve or bow now will not be able to help but fall to their needs and confess that Jesus is, indeed, the Lord.)

Emptied of myself, servant of God, re-made into the likeness of Jesus.

Which means humility and obedience and death and crosses.

And all of this to the glory of God!

O, Lord, empty me!

And as my reading was turned into these thoughts and these thoughts led to that cry of my heart, the words of a song came to my lips:

Empty me of the selfishness inside
Every vain ambition and the poison of my pride
And any foolish thing my heart holds to
Lord empty me of me so I can be filled with you.

(The song is “Empty Me” by Chris Sligh and you can watch it with lyrics here.)

O Lord, empty me.

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Was reading Philippians 1:19-26

Christ … be exalted in my body

whether by life or death

to live is Christ…

this will mean fruitful labor for me.

Christ exalted in my body

to live is Christ

and fruitful labor

fruitful labor

not that I produce the fruit…

… but that I remain in Christ

remain

abide

in the life-giving, fruit-producing Vine

abide in Christ

to live is Christ

and this means fruitful labor…

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Follow Me

(My devotions this morning were from John 21:15-25 which you can read here.)

“Follow me.”

It was one of the first things Jesus had said to Peter and it was one of that last.  It is both an invitation and a command.

In the beginning the response would have been out of simple obedience, perhaps a curiosity and not really knowing what all the invitation would mean…

But that was before.  Before three years of dusty roads, hard teachings, people healed, demons scattering.  Before spending day in and day out with God in the flesh.  Now Peter had seen his mother-in-law healed, had been a leader among followers, had walked on water, had gotten rebuked, had seen & confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the very Son of God and had denied this Son, his friend and master… for now was after Jesus had been arrested, beaten, crucified, buried and resurrected.

Things were different now. “Do you really love me?” Jesus had asked him moments before.  “Others will lead you where you don’t want to go…” Jesus had spoken, hinting at the martyrdom Peter would face.

Now the road was known. The truth of God’s redemption plan. The commitment to be made.  The sacrifice required. The hope attained.

And Jesus said, “Follow Me.”

And Peter did.

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