Category Archives: News Of Hope

For Tired People Carrying A Heavy Weight

Matthew 11:28-30
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

When I was in middle school, my mom drove the school bus. This means I was the first to get on and the last to get off. Guess what… I started to hate riding that bus! So in the afternoon, when the weather was nice, my mom would let me off at an earlier stop and I would walk about three miles down a country road to our house. I’d only get there a few minutes before she did but at least I wasn’t riding that terrible bus.

boywatermelon

One day, just as I got off the bus to start my walk, a lady who’d noticed me walking decided to do something nice for me so she gave me a huge watermelon from her garden. I was delighted as I started down the road with my enormous, sweet prize. It was heavy but that just meant it was big (and big means better right?).  I believe the first mile was pretty smooth as I experimented with different ways to carry it- on alternating shoulders, on my head, bear-hug style, rolling it with my feet, etc.  Then gravity and my cramping muscles started to conspire against my triumphant brain. The blessing slowly and steadily became a curse that I wasn’t prepared to cope with. It’s a wonder I didn’t throw that watermelon in the ditch! Looking back, I barely remember the lady who gave it to me and I have no memory at all of actually eating it, I only remember the burden and the struggle and the blessing that became a curse.

The people Jesus was speaking to understood this type of situation. They were a people chosen by God and given God’s perfect Laws- great and sweet Laws of goodness and blessing- and all they had to do was carry them out faithfully. That’s all they had to do. Easy right? That’s what I thought when I first grabbed the watermelon.

When you first read the Bible quote kicking this off, you probably identified with some heavy weight in your life. That’s what I’m guessing anyway. I would (I did in fact). And there are many heavy burdens in this life: illness, loss, addiction, shame, failure, pride, hate… The list could go on and on.  And all these burdens seem like they will stretch out into eternity… It “seems” like they are overwhelming but they do pass… However, the real burden I am concerned with doesn’t have anything to do with what happens between the flash of existence from birth to death (don’t get me wrong- there are some important details in that scant bit of time to me) but what’s following the grave. If you think we cease to exist at death, keep reading for fun (why not?) and if you don’t, keep reading for fun (why not?).

The heaviest weight of all- yes, all time winner– is the burden one bears when their life is laid open (in front of them) to the holy and perfect God of all creation. I’ll just be frank: that’s a watermelon I can not carry for any distance. And what is this burden called- this heaviness that engenders so much fear from a good God? Well, it’s the opposite of good of course… And God gave it the name “sin.” Those who do it are called “sinners” and those who don’t are called Disney characters [or Jesus, but He doesn’t really count here because He was also God].

The truth is, we’re all sinners. Yes, I typed it- we’re ALL sinners. Period. That doesn’t mean we all go on shooting sprees at the mall, but it does mean that none of us is perfect and we do mess things up (sin) in various ways on a pretty regular basis. We just can’t uphold God’s perfect Law perfectly. And if this rubs you the wrong way, you have bad company- the teachers of the Law (professionalexperts) and Pharisees (holier-than-thou-guys) who thought they were actually carrying that watermelon just fine! Jesus didn’t skirt their situation, He just came out with it: “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” And instead of going light on His Father’s Law, Jesus ramped it UP: “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!” And: “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We could just skip all these earlier quotes from Matthew 5 and cut right to the heart of the matter though:  “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  Wow. Try carrying that burden!

This is not to say that God’s Law is bad but that we are weak and sinful. And we are. We inherited a broken nature and we’ve invented new brokenness on top of it as well. And I don’t mean “we” as the human race  (the big picture- though that also applies) but as individuals. We are all, individually, guilty failures when set against God’s perfect nature.

Still reading? Maybe you can feel the real heavy weight? I know I can because I’m such a failure! And this is good news for you because if someone like me (a REAL sinner and a REAL failure with sins I don’t even want to talk about) has hope, then why shouldn’t you? Oh snap- why does someone like me (who assumes a worse condition than you, anonymous internet sinner) have any hope at all? To be honest, I shouldn’t have but I do because of what the rest of that Bible passage hints toward.

Jesus said to bring our burdens to Him and that He would give us rest. Our burden of sin… He takes it on Himself and He also takes the punishment for it on the cross. Our burden of righteousness… He takes it as well, living in perfect obedience and placing His righteousness on us (His yoke).  Jesus saves us through His death and His life. I believe it makes perfect sense to say God loves us like crazy! It’s a divinely insane, costly, beautiful, awesome, humbling, mind-blowing affair! It almost seems too good to be true and, in the natural way, it is… this is an all-out Miracle (capital M mind you!) of reckless, furious love.

You might think I got a little carried away in that last paragraph but I didn’t. I held back. To go 3 miles with a watermelon is nothing- I measure burdens in years now (and 3 is such a tiny number). The relief that Christ brings to me in this passage is beyond words. That God would love a sinner like me is staggering all by itself but… to love me so much that He took my punishment and gave me His righteousness (the perfect teacher totally cheating for me on the final exam out of sheer love)… Oh, I could type for hours! It’s pretty awesome to be so loved by God.

I guess the moral of this post is: don’t give watermelons to little kids. Or, if you do, love them enough to carry it for them all the way home. That’s what God did. God did it for me and He did it for you too. God loves you so much it would freak you out! And don’t think for a second that it’s a coincidence you read this far… God is already speaking to you.  Stop trying to carry what you can’t and give it to Christ.  You are God’s love song.

Small Beginnings…

It’s the middle of January in a new year (exactly where mid-January usually lands on the calendar) and, if you’re like most people, the new years resolutions are starting to run out of gas! Is it because we’re impatient and undisciplined? Maybe our idea of positive change isn’t something we honestly desire in day-to-day living (it just sounds good)? Or… could it be that our goals are so LARGE and we despise small beginnings?

This isn’t really about new years resolutions. I love them! I think I’ve even kept one! It’s really about anything we want to do, feel we should do, wish we could do, if only we had ___________. Yes, we could always “settle” and take a tiny step toward that huge goal but such a move seems so insignificant that we get discouraged and just give up. Again. Besides, we’ve never had ___________ and we never will right?

But what if we gave up on the insurmountable goal (for now) and just took one, little step toward it? What if that teeny, tiny step became a habit? Maybe you can’t read the entire Bible in one day but what if you just put aside 15 minutes a day (and didn’t throw in the towel when you missed a week)? Maybe you can’t give up that addiction cold turkey but what if you consciously tried to back out of it little by little (and opened up, however slowly, to accepting help from others).  Maybe you can’t stop from flying into a rage at work but what if you started counting to 10 every once in a while before yelling (even if you do still lose control occasionally)? Maybe you can’t pray for 3 hours every morning but what if you just prayed every morning (with no formal, set length of time)? Maybe you can’t ___________ but what if…

God gave Zechariah some pretty stout resolutions to deliver to His people. This came after spending many years in captivity because they failed their previous “resolutions.” Just check out how the book of Zechariah begins:

…say to the people, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.’ Don’t be like your ancestors who would not listen or pay attention when the earlier prophets said to them, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Turn from your evil ways, and stop all your evil practices.’ [Zechariah 1:3-4 NLT]

Well now, what do you do with that! To top it off, part of this return to God included rebuilding the temple- a truly monumental task. The responsibility for the temple project fell to a man named Zerubbabel (you may remember that name from the lineage of Jesus- I didn’t because I usually skim those lists).  Zechariah speaks specifically to Zerubbabel when he says:

Then he [The Lord] said to me, “This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will become a level plain before him! And when Zerubbabel sets the final stone of the Temple in place, the people will shout: ‘May God bless it! May God bless it!’”

Then another message came to me from the Lord: “Zerubbabel is the one who laid the foundation of this Temple, and he will complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has sent me. Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” [Zechariah 4:6-10]

I think we should take encouragement from Zerubbabel and take the small steps- pick up the plumb line- and continue the journey toward what we know is right. Lao-Tzu said “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” And it’s not a journey that we have to travel alone: we have brothers and sisters who want to help us, crowds in Heaven cheering us on and God is with us every step of the way.

All that said, will we still fail from time to time? Yep. But failure is no reason to give up on success- it’s just another reminder of the grace God provides for our weakness. Grace gives the power and the motivation for the first small step all the way to the last when we step into God’s perfect Kingdom. In fact, without the grace and unconditional love of our Father God through Jesus Christ, everything I’ve written is just depressing garbage! But with this divine acceptance and help, all things are possible!

So be encouraged this new year and take a small step. Don’t undervalue your small beginnings but be filled with hope!