Take My Yoke

The Commands of Jesus Series

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.

29  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.  30  For My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Wait a minute! I am already tired and worn out and instead of taking it easy you want me to trade my burden in for a new one. And you say that I will find rest by taking up this new burden. Yes, that is the offer that Jesus wants you to take.

►  The yoke of the world
Galatians 4:3  And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.

The world doesn’t have much to offer to you but it is still enticing to hold on to the bondage that it brings. The guilt and shame, the worthless pursuit of fame and fortune are all a heavy burden that needs to be unloaded.

►  The yoke of the cross
Luke 9:23  Then He said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow Me.

There is freedom in Christ but there is also responsibility. Jesus said that we are to take up the burden that he has for us, the cross that we are to bear each day, and be his followers. We are to be the workers in the field, the Good Samaritans and the sowers of the gospel seed.

There is a lot of work left to be done Lord, but we know that you will empower your people to do the work. Thank you for finding me trustworthy and for giving me the strength to serve you. (1Timothy 1:12)

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My Faith is Fleeting

My faith is fleeting, and my heart feels weak…

The struggles a Disciple can face go beyond the questions of society, they go beyond the challenges that arise in the adherence to the Word of God, stretching beyond temptation and sin. They can reach beyond to the darker places of the soul where fear, and worry, hurt and sorrow dwell in the shadows of who we are. They can reach beyond to touch us so that in those deeper moments we look and we see a poor reflection of ourselves, until we look through the mirror darkly amidst the imperfections that dwell within us. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

In those times, it just seems as if faith isn’t enough for us, or if it might once have been it isn’t now as it quickly flees from us in  those struggles we face.

Last week we talked about the fact that it isn’t wrong for a Christian to feel depressed despite the gifts that the Lord has given. Whatever others may say, there are going to be moments in our life when we just can’t seem to make a joyful noise, being glad even as we know that we live in the day that the Lord has made. Yet what about those times when it’s not others who say our faith isn’t enough because we have slipped to the depth of those pits of depression? What about those times when we look at ourselves and we hear the whispering voice in the back of our mind telling us that it just isn’t enough?

Regardless of what anyone else might say or do, this is the hardest to deal with. With others we can, if we find the strength, dismiss it, knowing they don’t know what it is we are going through or even that they don’t know what they are talking about. Yet when the voice comes from ourselves, it’s harder because it is coming from a place where we know we are lacking, from someone who knows us so deeply.

During these times what we need to remember is that these thoughts, they come from a place of darkness in us, not a place of strength. In Daniel’s song of praise to the Lord, “He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.” (Daniel 2:22) Here we are reminded by the words of the Prophet that though darkness may threaten to envelop us, God remains in the light and He shines that light to reveal knowledge, hope and wisdom even in our deepest challenges, when depression threatens to swallow us whole.

Even if it doesn’t feel like it, faith, your faith is enough and it doesn’t run in the face of challenge. Perhaps it may seem like it, but that is the deception of the Great Deceiver himself, who seeks to outwit us and cause our fall (2 Corinthians 2:11) just as he had so many generations before when he moved to rob us of Paradise. Yes, he comes like a roaring lion seeking to devour us (Romans 5:8), but he also comes as a whispering voice in our struggles and our depression, telling us the most evil thoughts, playing off the weakness and the self-doubt that comes from it. He does it because, where perhaps playing off of the vanity and the arrogance of some may work, in these times moving amidst the pain and the sorrow, pushing a little more, knowing how close one is to the edge, is all that he needs to ensure that they plunge to the depth of their despair, wondering why and how God could forsake them when they needed Him, if He was even there to begin with to hear their prayers.

Consider the argument, for a moment, of Satan before the throne of the Lord, looking upon His servant Job. Though his schemes did not work on the Man of Uz, perhaps a great deal of that came from the fact that he was only a spectator to Job’s  suffering, believing that as all of Job’s comfort, security and hope were taken from him,  the seeds of doubt would plant themselves. He has since mastered his craft and practiced for countless millennia and generations upon humanity, learning that the seed needed to be planted for it to take root. This is the game he now plays with God’s disciples as he weaves his dark cloak around them.

God does not abandon us, nor does He fail us or forsake us in our hour of need. (Joshua 1:5) For as distant as He may seem, He is always there on the other side of the veil that has been placed over our eyes, even as it seems to cover our sight to leave us wondering where He is. In those moments, though it feels as if our faith is weak, it takes greater strength than most know to believe that He is there, not only being certain of the things we do not see but hope on (Hebrews 11:1) but relying on it with every portion of our soul, finding the test to our spirit is nothing more than a challenge to the grace that has captured our heart.

In these moments, faith, dear brothers and sisters, is not gone, it has not fled from you. Yes, you are weary from your challenge, and your adversity, but your strength remains. The deceptions that can be woven around you in your moments of weakness are nothing more than just that. Like any good deception they perhaps feel so real, so palpable. Still they are there for no other purpose but to rob you of the peace and the hope you have. Ultimately what you need to remember is you are the one God choose through the power of His Spirit to bestow the gifts of His grace upon, the one He has showered the love that comes from His faith upon. That does not just slip away during the hardships you face. It is a living, breathing part of you. You just need to hold those promises a little tighter, seeking Him and those He has sent into your life to help you, and you will see the light that He has promised to you cutting through the darkness.

Your faith is never fleeting, however weak your heart may feel, dear Disciple. Be strong in the power of the Lord, and if you can’t find that strength, then let Him show it to you through the love and the compassion of His heart and your brethren as it reminds you how precious you are to Him.

Await My Return

The Commands of Jesus Series

Matthew 24:42-44  “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.

43  Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into.

44  You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.

Jesus spoke a lot about the need to be ready, to keep your guard up, he told us to be found faithfully serving in the work that he has called us to do.

We were all created for good works (Ephesians 2:10) and we are expected to be working on those good works until the day that Jesus takes us home and relieves us of our labor. What an awesome day that will be when we will finally be free from the old sin nature, free from the pain and sorrow of his world.

Luke 12:37  The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat!

What an amazing thought, that we will be seated by our Savior and that he will serve us, the one that was bruised for us will forgive the multitude of wrong things that we have said and done and he will serve us himself. Not the angels or some other heavenly being or saint from years long ago but Jesus is going to serve me!

Thank you Lord for your incredible love that looks beyond my ability to be faithful and and obedient. Thank you for the sacrifice that you made for me! May I always be doing the ministry that you have called me to do until the day that you take me home.

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Let the Shame of it Go.

It’s hard when the faithful Disciple, in living their life, finds their mind slipping and their heart sinking deeper within them. They want to see the light that surrounds them, but in that moment they can’t help but see the darkness that fogs their eyes as they feel a coldness inside of them brought by this emptiness. It’s an emptiness that should be filled with faith and hope, the faith and the hope that have always guided you, that you’ve always known was enough, but that seems removed from your life right now.

There’s a myth that surrounds Christianity, and the Christian that is sometimes touted out who says that they cannot be depressed. After all, “This is the day that the Lord has made,” aren’t we meant to “rejoice and be glad in it”? (Psalm 118:24) Aren’t we supposed to “Shout for joy to the Lord” while we “burst into jubilant song with music”? (Psalm 98:4) There are times when we can be made to feel as if, in the depth of despair, amidst the darkness that can surround us, it is even worse because there is something even more shameful in the way that we feel, as if we are not showing the proper gratitude to God for all the good gifts and wondrous blessings He has shown for our lives.

If this is the case, are we truly faithful? Are we truly the Disciples we were meant to be finding that depression creates within us a despair and a pain that doesn’t allow us to see the deeper wonders of God’s miracles that should create a joyful heart within us?

It has always been our perceptions of God’s love and the way that we perceive His word that creates more questions, that create more hardship than the actual fact that lies within the meaning and the purpose that He has intended for us. Whatever myths we attach to it, the truth is something vastly different in the confidence we should have in the faith He has blessed us with as that gift of His grace.

Considering the one we are meant to set our sights on, “the author and the finisher of our faith”, (Hebrews 12:2) there are few who understand the temptations that surround depression quite like our blessed Savior. Facing all that we face, seeing the world through the eyes of our hardships, there were times when even Christ Himself was threatened to be swallowed whole by it. Even as He placed his trust in God, His faith in the love and the design, the grandness of the plan of His Heavenly Father, whom He knew loved Him so dearly, it was not hard to see that pain and that sense of despair on His face, to hear it in His voice as He prayed, knowing His course, as He fell to the ground, and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Though His faith never wavered in the face of it, nor did He ever question the nature of God’s plan, in those moments, when He felt the finality of it all, of the design He knew He was sent to fulfill, like any of us, He Himself felt a darkness that surrounded Him that did not let Him make that “joyful noise” or “burst into that jubilant song.”

But then there is a reason why Jesus tells us to “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) He wants us to know that, even as we feel tired and weighed down by this world, even as we feel the struggles of this world push on us, there is nothing shameful in it. Saints through the course of time, men and women whose faith would be renowned for its strength would face the same even as they trusted in God, finding that the hardships of this world would find the weaker places in them and try to break them. There was and there is nothing shameful, nothing wrong in that. The true test of faith is not in never feeling depression or darkness surrounding us, it lies in how we seek God and those who He has sent to help us through that journey into the foggy mists of the hazier places in our minds.

More than just singing a joyful song or praising God for all of His blessings, being a Disciple of Christ is about being honest with Him. You cannot be faithful in your steadfast devotion to your faith if, like Adam and Eve in the Garden, you hide from Him when you feel as if something is shameful and wrong. You cannot seek His plan and design, you cannot find the peace of His love if you pretend to Him, refusing to bear your heart and your soul to Him.

There is nothing wrong or bad or shameful about what you feel or face, the only wrong that can occur is when you refuse to let the Lord, your Heavenly Father who loves and care for you, heal you, guiding you to the people and places you need where hope and love and help lie waiting for you.

How many times should I forgive?

Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

The truth about forgiveness is that it can be really hard.  Sometimes it requires that we keep forgiving the same people and the same hurtful acts over and over again.  Anyone with kids want to give an amen?!

Forgiveness requires humbling ourselves.  It’s a sacrifice on our part to keep forgiving, but it’s what God wants to see us do.  He taught this lesson to Peter and the disciples in the parable told in Matthew 18:21-35.  To forgive is to obey God.  Look no further than Mark 11:25-26, Colossians 3:13, and Ephesians 4:32 to see this truth.  Did you see what was said there?  You MUST forgive.

Forgiveness might be hard, but it’s also freeing.  Unforgiveness locks us up in a prison of our own making like the servant in the parable.  Forgiving restores fellowship with others and with God.  When we’ve really experienced being forgiven it’s easier to appreciate it and we’re more driven to forgive others because we know how it feels to be free in that way.  To forgive frees both parties involved.

Sometimes, though, we might forget how much we’ve been forgiven and we need to be reminded.  All that Christ has done for us to redeem us and restore us to a relationship with God is a beautiful reminder of how much He loves us and how much we should love others.  God became a man and lived a perfect, sinless human life and died a painful and humiliating death on a cross to take on our sins and the punishment we deserved.  Not only that, He credited us with His righteousness and then rose from the dead three days after His death to go and mediate on our behalf to the Father.  Yes, we’ve been forgiven beyond what we can even imagine.  The least we can do is forgive others.

 

This devotional is derived from a sermon message by Matthew J. Cochran.  To hear the sermon, follow this link to matthewjcochran.com.

Bring In the Poor

The Commands of Jesus Series

Luke 14:12-14  Then He turned to His host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” He said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward.  13  Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  14  Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”

Proverbs 14:31  Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but helping the poor honors Him.

What an awkward situation we have here. Jesus is at a rich leader of the Pharisees home for dinner and he lets the guy know that he shouldn’t invite all of his rich friends to the banquet but rather he should have invited “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.”

The Pharisees loved to show off and there is no doubt that Jesus was the only poor man there, these guys still didn’t get it. Jesus wasn’t impressed with their whitewashed appearance, he looked down into the heart and saw their attitudes, just like he did when the poor widow gave her offering in the temple.

If we spend too much of our time planning activities with our friends and with those that have the power to help us get ahead, then we will not be focused on the desire of Jesus for us and we will have no interest in helping others.

Help me Lord to always be focused on what is important to you, help me to be a friend to those that are in need, showing the same compassion that you have for them.

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Ask, Seek and Knock

The Commands of Jesus Series

Matthew 7:7-11  “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  8  For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

9  “You parents–if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead?  10  Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not!  11  So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him.

Relationships require a lot of effort to make them successful and my relationship with God is no exception to the rule. Seeking first the kingdom of God is job number one.

Matthew 6:33 How could I grow closer to God without putting in the effort? What other relationship has all of the benefits that my relationship with God has?

I need to be careful that the cares of the world don’t creep in and build up space between God and myself.

  • I need to ask of him like a traveler asks for assistance in finding my destination.
  • I need to seek with great care for this very valuable property.
  • I need to knock with perseverance as a beggar pleads for benevolence.

1 John 3:22  And we will receive from Him whatever we ask because we obey Him and do the things that please Him.

Psalms 105:3-4  Exult in His holy name; rejoice, you who worship the LORD.  4  Search for the LORD and for His strength; continually seek Him.

Help me to understand more about prayer Lord, I need a better understanding of the scriptures on this topic and I need to spend a lot more time asking, seeking and knocking so that I will be receiving, finding and gaining access through closed doors.

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A Revolutionary Spirit

America should have never been.

In Russia the Cossacks of Yemelyan Pugachev had already been crushed even as they attempted to rise against Catherine the Great’s rule, while, in Greece, the attempt to revolt against Ottoman rule was quickly put down with a lack of support from their allies. If, by the examples of the turmoil that was laid to rest by the rulers and the empires around them, the thirteen colonies were to learn anything, it was that you do not rise against your King, especially if he ruled the most powerful of the Empires.

Yet, coming face to face with what they knew of the world around them, and seeing the challenge of what they had to do, there was no other course for them, no other path they could have taken. The cries of Revolution, though reluctant at first, rose from their lips in the courage and the faith that though they may rise and fall with the next steps taken, they were giving themselves for something greater than themselves in the dreams of liberty and the hope of freedom that it carried.

As disciples of Christ there are times in our lives when we see the world around us for all that it is, and the truth is, we should, by the examples that have been placed before us, think twice of standing by our face. Perhaps we live in the blessings of the freedom to express our faith, a blessing that is not, even in this day and age, known by all. Yet, the challenges we face, though a spiritual challenge, offer to us a warning as we see the struggles of those who speak out and speak up for what they believe in all around us. We seek to change the world, offering ourselves in hope and love to others, still, even as we do little seems to change.

During these times we need to remember there is no other course for us except to stand and to dwell in the freedom granted to us by faith. After all, to live by the Spirit that has taken hold of us, that has created a new creation in us, is to live in liberty (2 Corinthians 3:7), a blessed gift offered through the love and sacrifice of Christ. To ignore that is to wear upon us the yoke of slavery, (Galatians 5:1) forged by apathy, hatred, in the understanding that we are all bound together and that while one lives in darkness and pain, destitution and hurt, we all find ourselves in such meager estates, even if we close our eyes and ignore that dark truth.

It is to be burdened by even greater challenges as we accept the world as it is, rather than how it could be in courage and the strength, as we fail to realize even the smallest of voices can be heard around the world by how it touches the lives of those around them. After all, our freedom is an opportunity to, in love, affect change in the lives of others if we let it, (Galatians 5:13) and we put behind us the corruption of our flesh that so weakens us. (Romans 8:21)

The truest revolutions, given to the hope that freedom brings, it does not come through the roaring thunder of cannons, or through the marches of those who take up arms, it comes in the hearts and the minds of those who believe in something bigger than themselves. It comes through a spirit of charity that looks at the weak and the forgotten and asks what can be done for them. It comes through those who love for the sake of loving, and nothing more, using what they have to help the poor and the downtrodden, seeking them out to offer them hope. It comes from feeding the hungry, listening to the depressed, helping the elderly, and being a force for healing to the sick. It comes from being there for those who need you on their terms, showing them the hope and the wonder, the miracles that surround them in the miracle that you can be in their lives.

The faithful disciple meets the world as it is, and asks of themselves, regardless of the challenge that it may bring, how can I rise above the struggles it may bring, above the difficulties I know may arise, to do more and to be more in the lives of others? They do so in a revolutionary spirit that is based firmly in reality, but that can’t stop asking how they can make it better, and what they can do to bring that about in the courage and the strength to take action.

Today is a new day, given as a gift from your Heavenly Father, and, as days go, it is your chance to put anything and everything that may hinder you behind you to give yourself in hope, love and faith, guided by the blessed wonders of Christ. How will you spend it?

The joy of pain

James 1:2-4  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

 Sometimes the best thing that can happen to you is a tragedy.  Sometimes the thing that puts you on the path you need to be on is pain and suffering.  No one wants to face those things, but in reality they point us to God.

When things are going perfectly, we often have a tendency to overlook God’s role in the blessings we’re enjoying.  Maybe every now and then we give thanks, but when it’s smooth sailing there is little time really spent calling out to God.

But when the going gets tough, it’s time to hit our knees.  We cry out to God and beg Him to get us through this painful circumstance.  We talk to Him more, trust in Him more, exercise greater faith, and grow more spiritually than we ever do during the good times.

It’s often said that if there’s no pain there’s no gain, but we seem to think this doesn’t apply to spiritual matters.  The truth is, pain produces growth spiritually, and it perfects us a little bit at a time as we grow closer to God in the midst of our trials.  So next time you’re going through a rough patch, give thanks to God for the opportunity to become more like His Son.  Rely on Him to get you through to the end.