Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 11:29). If we’re not careful we can find ourselves filled with stress and worry in this life. There is always something that’s wrong or needs to be fixed. There is always a challenge to face or an obstacle to overcome. That’s why we need to grow. Jesus wants us to know His peace and rest, which strengthens our soul. But for this to happen, we must obey Him. He told us two things in Matthew 11:29. First, He said, “Take my yoke upon you….” Finding rest inside is not the result of casting off all responsibility. It’s not trying to go on a lifetime vacation, sitting around doing nothing. A yoke is a symbol of work and effort. Animals wore yokes to plod through the fields breaking up the earth before the seed was sown. The yoke of Jesus involves willingly embracing the work to which God has called us. As we love Jesus and do His will, this yoke doesn’t seem like a burden to bear but rather a delight. That’s why He said, “…my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). This rest and peace of Jesus come as we are willing to do the second thing He told us, “…learn from me….” How do we learn? I learn to do something new by first watching someone else and then repeating it myself. Of course, learning a new skill also takes much practice and repetition. When it comes to learning from the Lord, He helps me in various ways. I “watch” Him and learn from Him as I pray, read His Word, and observe Him through the lives of others. This past weekend, Terry and I visited Chicago Tabernacle, a growing urban church in a large city. We observed, listened, and experienced an environment of passionate love for God and His Word. The Lord has used the “culture” of Chicago Tabernacle to provide fruitful ministry to the community. This visit was a great encouragement and gave Terry and me many good ideas to pray over and consider for Highway Tabernacle. While we should never try to “copycat” another church, we can open our hearts and learn from Jesus how to do ministry more effectively. We thank you for allowing us the opportunity to travel to Chicago, and we believe the Lord is teaching us some great lessons as we go forward. The Lord Jesus is the great teacher, and we thank Him for a lifetime to learn from Him! Let’s continue to learn and grow!
One of the duties I’m responsible for at the ministry I’m employed with is to serve as a donation coordinator. This task consists of contacting and meeting with potential donors of essential items and provisions toward the care of the residents in the ministry’s program. Giving full disclosure, my initial assumption going into this task was that I’d be met with an overwhelming degree of rejection from the organizations contacted. However, the opposite has been the case. In fact, many of the organizations I’ve encountered concerning this specific matter have each told me the same thing. They often say, there is a plethora of supplies and provisions available for donations, but few inquire about the need for or offer the laborers to receive and distribute the donations. This reminds me of the words from Jesus, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37-38). There are countless souls in the harvest field primed to hear and receive the Good News but not enough believers to go out and gather. So, I ask these questions…. Have we as individuals as well as a collective body of Christ made ourselves available to work in the harvest field? Has one of our consistent prayers been for God to use us as laborers for His kingdom and to increase in abundance willing participants? Misdirection and distractions put forth by those with ungodly agendas have a way of deterring and discouraging Christians from sharing the faith confidently. In many instances, I’ve come across believers who’ve simply conceded to a thought that no one wants to hear about God anymore, therefore, focus should be centered more on those who are already believers rather than on the harvest field. This mindset is not consistent with the mindset of our Lord and Savior. Did He not say He would leave the ninety-nine behind for the one? (Matthew 18:12). The ultimate celebration of revival happens when new names are added to the Book of Life. God urges us not to delay any longer. He wants us to go, go, go out into the true field of dreams! “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35).
You know the feeling…. You are surrounded by people but feel alone. Why is this? In this life we are created with a deep yearning to know and to be known. Relationships are not only good but also necessary for life and health. Yet, we have this challenge. Every person struggles with a sin nature. Called by the term flesh in the New Testament, this nature is inherently selfish. As a result, we find ourselves “guarded” in how close we interact with others and in our ability to trust others. The other day I met a parent with a child, and I spoke to the child. He just looked at me and backed away. I get it. Children are naturally shy, and they are taught to be wary of strangers. Sin, in the world, tempts us to live “every person for themselves.” But Jesus shows us a better way. He called us to trust Him and, from the strength of His Holy Spirit, to love one another. Yes, this love still needs boundaries of appropriate behavior. However, we are free to serve and help others to know that they are not alone. The ability to give comes first from our fellowship with God. I don’t have to wander aimlessly in life looking for people to notice me and love me. Because I am known and loved by the Lord, I have hope and grace to look beyond myself and truly care about others. While most people in life look for love, Jesus commands us to love. As we love others, we discover that we are not alone. This life of love starts with knowing God…and realizing that we are known by God. David, the Psalmist declared, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar” (Psalm 139:1-2). David knew that God knew him. This gave him strength to live a victorious life. Love and trust the One who knows you best, and give to those you are getting to know here and now. This is the way of Jesus!
“Just trust me on this.” Has anyone ever said these words to you? If you are a normal person, you have every right to ask a lot of questions to such a request: “Can I trust the person asking this? Does this person know what he’s talking about? What is his reputation and credibility? Has he let others down? Do I really know this person?” Trusting someone puts you in a vulnerable position…sometimes even a life-or-death situation. As I am reading Psalms, I discover so many of them are filled with the drama of great trials…and the need for great faith. Of the 140 times trust is mentioned in the Old Testament, 60 of these references are in Psalms. In essence, the Book of Psalms is a commentary on the Lord saying, “Just trust Me on this.” In my personal life, I discover that trust is not always my first response. It’s so natural for my human nature to give in to anxiety and fretting…to stress and strain, wondering if the Lord will come through for me again “this time.” However, the more I walk with God and experience His presence and character, the less I give in to negativity and doubt. David, who wrote more psalms than anyone, declared, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him” (Psalm 28:7). Trusting God has a wholesome effect on my heart. Joy wells up deep within me as I know the Lord wants me to succeed in life and know His deep abiding peace. The reason I can trust Him is not just because He commands me but also because I know Him…and better yet, He knows me! I know His character is, and always will be, pure and holy. His faithfulness reaches above the skies (Psalm 36:5), and His love endures forever! When I consider His constant faithfulness throughout my life, the more I treat doubt and complaining as a sin. The Lord commands us to trust Him…and for good reason. He alone is sovereign and knows the way I should take. Just trust Him on this!
Have you ever talked to a child who thinks that food comes from supermarkets? In our urban environment, it’s easy to forget the importance of the fields and harvest. During the time the Word of God came (by the Holy Spirit through God’s anointed servants), most people lived by growing crops. The Word of God is filled with references to agriculture and the process of sowing and reaping. This morning I was blessed as I thought about the truths from Psalm 85:10-13: “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.” These verses remind me of two important truths. First, I need the righteousness that comes from above. Just as the fields and crops cannot grow fruit without the blessings of the sun and rain, I must receive God’s righteousness. His righteousness “looks down from the sky” (verse 11b). I am dependent on God and His blessing coming from above. The second truth from these verses is the importance of faithfulness. The one growing the crops expects a harvest. God does His part by providing the blessings from above. We do our part by being faithful. “Faithfulness springs up from the ground” (verse 11a). The fruit of our faithfulness blesses the heart of God and reveals to the world around us the glory of God. So, we can’t be righteous without the provision of God…and we need to respond to the gift of righteousness (which comes through faith in Jesus) by producing the fruit of righteousness in our daily life. What a beautiful way of life the Lord provides for us!
“Privately healthy and publicly fruitful.” I came across this church vision motto from Pastor Al Toledo of the Chicago Tabernacle church. I love the essence of this statement because it resonates with the teaching of Jesus and the principles of the Bible. Here is what Jesus said about our inner life and the outgrowth of fruitfulness. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). Jesus did not come into the world to give us a list of things to do or to avoid. He came to give us life through His Spirit! This living relationship between us and the Lord is pictured as fruit growing on a vine. In order to have fruit, there must first be “abiding.” We are taught by Christ that He is in us…and we are in Him. The first priority of life, therefore, is the cultivation of the inner person of our heart. For us to experience “privately healthy” we first must admit our sin and sickness of heart without Christ and cry out to Him for salvation. The power of the Holy Spirit, then, keeps us in fellowship with Him. Our part of remaining in Him is to love Him back by exercising faith. We pray, read the Word, manage our thoughts, and participate in the life of Christ through the spiritual disciplines. As we live in Christ, we are promised, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit…” (verse 5a). “Public fruitfulness” is the natural outgrowth of abiding in Him. We don’t have to “stress and strain” to bear fruit, because, if we love Him, we will obey Him and manifest His life and deeds to the world. The Lord gives us all gifts and talents and a unique personality. As people see Christ in us, they will be influenced to consider the claims of Christ and whether or not they too will follow. Privately healthy and publicly fruitful…is a great way to express the purpose of our life and church!
Someone from the community called me the other day asking for prayer concerning some major tests and trials. This person is a believer, although not part of Highway. As I prayed for this person, I asked the Lord for a Scripture I could share. I remembered back to a difficult trial I had gone through, and the Scripture that God gave me at that time. “Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever. He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes” (Psalm 112:6-8). What an amazing passage of Scripture! Let me share a few thoughts that stand out to me. First, there is a hidden strength for the godly. This “root system,” although invisible to others, keeps us standing when the winds shake our world. The Lord himself is our steadfast rock, immovable and firm! Second, I see in this Scripture that sometimes life brings “bad news.” We can’t escape the trials of life, but we don’t have to be defeated by them. The bad news has a way of entwining itself around our heart, creating obsessive worry. But the Lord is greater than our heart and knows how to enable us to live above crippling fear. “In the end he will look in triumph on his foes” (verse 8). Our foes of fear and anxiety are no match for the One who proclaims in the midst of the storm, “Peace, be still.” My prayer is that all of us, as God’s people, will learn to reach out to God in faith…sharing with Him all the worry that wants to come along with bad news. Commit yourself to the One who’s got you in His hands! And remember, the Good News of Jesus is always greater than the bad news of the world.
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus did not just teach about prayer…He prayed! I talked to a young man once about praying. He told me, “I tried it once and it doesn’t work.” It seemed his idea of prayer was putting money in a broken vending machine and waiting for candy that didn’t drop. Unfortunately, manmade religions reinforce the idea that prayer is simply a way of trying to get something from God. “If you just try hard enough, God might reward you.” Jesus taught us that prayer is living in relationship with God. If we have given our hearts to Jesus our Lord, we have the great honor of living in fellowship with Him all our days. But there’s a catch. It won’t be easy. The world around us is a hostile environment when it comes to prayer and knowing God. A case in point: our government even outlaws prayer in schools. This “anti-attitude” toward prayer requires us to walk against the winds of culture. But it’s worth it! From studying the life of Jesus, you discover prayer was both His habit and lifestyle. As children of God, we need to persevere when it comes to developing the habit of prayer. If we’re not careful, we can easily allow our schedule to fill up to the place where prayer seems irrelevant…becoming only a last-minute gasp to God when we’re in trouble. My encouragement to you today is to give yourself a chance to know God through a consistent, habitual prayer life. Set aside a time of the day when you’re not tired from the daily demands (morning works well for most people). Start with something realistic. Maybe you sit in God’s presence alone for an uninterrupted 10 to 15 minutes. You can grow from there, but you need to at least get started. Guard your time with God! Push yourself to do this even when your emotions don’t cooperate. If you stay with this, a beautiful godly habit develops where prayer becomes natural and personal. Remember, the greatest thing about prayer is getting to know and become like Jesus! Give yourself a chance.
So, I’m reading the amazing Book of Job again. As you remember, after Job’s grievous calamities, three of his friends came to offer him comfort. In chapters 3 through 31 we read the back-and-forth dialogue between Job and these friends. They all show astounding wisdom and make great claims about God, life and the human condition. All of what is recorded in Job is Scripture and inspired by God. The words were faithfully and truthfully written and copied. As I read Job, however, I am a little “guarded” in my heart. Even though we have the words of Job and his friends divinely preserved, this doesn’t mean their perception and insights were right. Take Eliphaz for example. Here is what he said to Job: “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it” (Job 4:7-8). As I read this, I thought to myself, This is true as a general observation. Eliphaz reminds Job (and us) of the truth of the innocent not perishing as those who do evil, and those who do evil reaping trouble. However, what happens in life does not always fit neatly into this observation. Sometimes life just doesn’t make sense in the moment. A quick look at history, as well as considering the suffering of persecuted Christians in the world right now, shows us that God’s people sometimes pay a great price for their faith. And it seems that those who do evil sometimes prosper greatly in their endeavors. Eliphaz was right in his general observation but wrong in his application of this to Job. When he said, “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it” (verse 8), he misapplies this truth to Job. In other words, he assumed that Job was evil because of his trials and tests. Let’s take this to heart and be careful. God’s Word is true, but let’s rely on the Holy Spirit and God’s wisdom to apply His truth to particular situations. Sometimes, it’s better to pray for someone and use our words sparingly than to pretend we know everything that is going on. Don’t be one of those who is right…but wrong.
I just finished reading the Book of 2 Chronicles which shows us the ending of the era of the kings of Israel. The books of Kings and Chronicles in the Bible reveal the highlights (and many “lowlights”) of the reigns of the kings of the Hebrew people in Judah and Israel. The northern kingdom, Israel, was taken into captivity by the Assyrians. God allowed this because the Israelites abandoned the Lord and His Word. Instead of learning from this, the southern kingdom, Judah, fell into the same pit. As I was reading about the various kings leading Judah (before they fell to the Babylonians), I felt like I was watching a “ping pong” match. Judah bounced from a bad king to a good king…and back to a bad king. The majority of the people expressed no moral backbone and caved in to however the king lived. Manasseh is a case in point. His father, Hezekiah, served the Lord for most of his reign. Manasseh came to the throne at the tender age of 12 and reigned 55 years. The Bible says, “Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel. The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon” (2 Chronicles 33:9-11). What a sad commentary! God’s people did more evil than the ungodly nations before them! What is true of a nation, is also true of individuals. My “take aways” from reading about the kings of Israel and Judah are these: (1) Keep a tender heart and be willing to listen to the Lord; (2) We spare ourselves so much pain and sorrow if we live God’s way and reject evil and sin; (3) Leaders are imperfect. We need to pray for them, but we cannot let them replace the Lord; (4) We all reap what we sow. I am glad the Lord gave us the stories about the kings. They are both an inspiration and a warning to me as I continue my journey. By the grace of God, I set my heart on the one called “the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords!” How about you?