Sometimes it feels like we are just exchanging one thing for another. Take for example our current state of affairs. Most things are cancelled. Kids are out of school. Practices are off. Plays are on hold. The extra things that we have filled or lives with for years are not happening and yet...we've simply traded one form of exhaustion for another. We've traded in our physical exhaustion for an emotional exhaustion. You're emotionally exhausted because you now have to answer endless questions from your kids...all day long. You are emotionally exhausted because you are now responsible to homeschool on topics you forgot even existed. You find yourself emotionally exhausted because every news channel & social media feed is full of bad news. There seems to be no escape from exhaustion. We've been forced to hand in our physical exhaustion due to social distancing but we've picked up emotional exhaustion by choice.
In the book of Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB) Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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.”
Jesus makes clear an offer for you and I as ones who are weary and burdened, physically or emotionally. He says, "Come to me". Usually when we read a passage like this our eyes quickly focus in on the parts that most benefit us. We quickly hone in on the parts that say we will find rest and the burden is light. What we tend to skip over though is the first part, our part, what must happen in order for us to find that rest and to receive that lighter burden. Jesus says, "COME TO ME."
Allow me to encourage you to come to Jesus. Coming to Jesus is as simple as inviting Him into your day. It's as simple as spending a few minutes in prayer before the kids get up (if that's even possible) asking God to fill you with His presence. It's as simple as shutting off the news feeds and television and instead choosing to fill your mind with the things of God as you read His Word for a few minutes. It's choosing to meditate on the things of God and not the things of the world. Jesus longs for us to trade in our exhaustion for His rest and all we have to do is ask. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
I have recently taken to the idea of gardening. The thought of growing something from seed to table sounds appealing. The problem is I'm not a gardener. I have countless times proven that I do not have a green thumb. Nevertheless, I'm taking another crack at it.
When I first got the bug to garden, I began reading, watching videos, chatting with folks who've done it before all in an effort to figure out where to begin. With so much ground to cover I was unsure where to begin. Where I landed as a starting point may surprise you...I began by purchasing three 65 gallon barrels in an effort to collect rain water to eventually water my yet to be created garden. That project alone took up the better part of a weekend, building elevated platforms for their barrels to sit on, cutting into the downspouts of my house, fitting the barrels with spigots and overflow holes, making sure nothing leaked, etc. At the end of that first weekend I honestly didn't feel much closer to actually gardening but I knew deep inside that I was laying a foundation and that I had made progress.
My next weekend was spent building a 3-bin compost pile. A simple system built from metal stakes, two types of garden fencing and about 50 zip ties took up several hours a few Saturdays ago. At the end of the day I felt satisfied with my creation but had still yet to actually do any real gardening.
As I continued to survey my backyard I realized that to have success I would need to level the playing field...literally. The preferred spot for my future garden is in a slightly depressed area of my yard that quickly fills with water during any moderate rainfall. After a little research I'm in the process of having 2 yards of topsoil and 2 yards of playground mulch delivered to my driveway to use as a foundation for my "yet to be built" raised garden beds.
Speaking of those raised garden beds, I have to even purchase the first board to build them. The topsoil is on back order because of our recent rains and currently the seeds I have purchased have only been planted in tiny cardboard pots and currently reside on a table in my family room.
If you were to swing my house today and took a look around you would see little evidence of actual gardening. I you stood in my backyard you wouldn't see a garden. But I see it. I can clearly see a well maintained, flourishing garden right there in my backyard. I can almost taste the peppers, zucchini, broccoli, banana peppers, strawberries, cucumbers and tomatoes that will come from that yet to be created garden.
Friends, allow me to draw some parallels from my "almost garden" experience to our spiritual lives. Water and soil are vital to my success, without them all my efforts will be in vain, they are the foundation on which to build a successful garden. Long before I planted my first seedling in a tiny pot I was installing rain barrels and building a compost pile. The right groundwork has be laid down before the first harvest ever takes place.
In the same way it's vital that we lay down a foundation for our spiritual development. The Scripture is clear that Jesus Christ Himself is the Cornerstone (Psalm 118 & Acts 4). We are in need of no one and nothing else to enter into right relationship with God. When I speak of "foundation" I'm referring to those areas of life that we often forget to tackle in an effort to just get to "right living". Right living is so difficult if we don't first have right thinking and we develop right thinking as we immerse ourselves in the truth of God's Word, develop and practice a prayer life and stay connected to other believers. Too often we fail to set ourselves up for success when we try to go it alone without the right foundation.
I think that's why people so often struggle to develop deep study habits, an intentional prayer life and fail to foster deeper relationships with other believers. We just don't see the results we were hoping to see. We read but we don't fully comprehend so we throw in the towel. We pray but we feel like the answers we wanted didn't come, so we stop praying. We try to reach out and make friends with other believers but we soon discover that our feelings have been hurt or we feel left out so we quickly give up and think "What's the point?" Rest assured that if you've felt that way, you're not alone. Countless Christians struggle to lay a strong foundation of spiritual development.
The good news is that it's never too late to start laying the right foundation that will lead to your spiritual success. Philippians 4:8 (NASB) says, "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."
Make a plan to carve out time each day to dig into God's Word. Read a devotional, use your favorite Bible app, pick a book of the Bible and just immerse yourself in it. Read it, re-read it and then read it again. Talk to others about what you're reading, ask questions, seek wisdom from those whom you trust in the things of God.
Write out your prayer concerns, record how God responds even if you don't like the answer. Map out a prayer strategy like: A.C.T.S. (adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication). Talk to others about their prayer concerns, pray with them.
Get connected to other believers. Join a small group (via Facetime or Skype for the next few weeks). Subject yourself to the truth of God's Word through preaching, teaching, podcast, etc. Dwell on the things of God.
Right living comes naturally when right thinking comes first. Make a commitment to lay a strong foundation for your own spiritual development. My garden will come, I will eat what I've grown but for now I'm busy collecting water and creating quality soil. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Easter is on Sunday April 12, 2020. Easter if of course when we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, taking the punishment for our sins, past, present and future and allowing us to be made right in God’s sight. God demands perfection and because we aren’t perfect and aren’t capable of being perfect, God in His great love for us sent Jesus to be the sacrifice for our sins. Jesus took our punishment, what we deserved because of our actions and took it upon Himself on the cross which literally killed Him. But the greatest part of all was that Jesus didn’t stay in the grave right? He took our sin, died for our sin and then came back to life beating death.
The concept of there being a sacrifice for the sins of the people wasn’t new right? All throughout the Old Testament, sacrifices were exactly how the people’s sins were forgiven. The people sinned, God required a sacrifice, the people would slaughter an animal, often a lamb, blood would be spilled, God would forgive the people for their sins and everyone would move on until the next time.
But the two big differences this time were that 1.) there didn’t need to be a “next time”. Jesus was the ultimate once and for all sacrifice and 2.) those lambs that were killed as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of the people’s sins never came back to life, but Jesus did. So not only did Jesus take away our sins through His death but then He takes up a notch and beats death by coming back to life. That’s the ultimate sacrifice. It’s because of what Jesus did on the cross that you and I can have the opportunity to accept the sacrifice of Jesus and have our slate wiped clean in God’s sight once and for all. That is the story of Easter in a nutshell.
As we head to Easter allow me to challenge you to evaluate the role that you are called to play. BibleGateway has it like this in the book of John.
John 1:6-8 (NASB) says, “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.”
So in this passage we’re introduced to a guy by the name of John. John was the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth and we learn about this couple over in the book of Luke chapter 1. This is a lengthy passage but it’s important for our understanding of what we’re talking about.
Luke 1:5-17 (NASB) says, “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
There is a boat load of stuff to unpack here but let’s just highlight a few things to help us better understand what’s happening:
1.) This is pre-Jesus’ birth. Jesus had yet to come into the world as a baby, in fact if you keep reading in this Luke passage you discover that almost immediately after this account, the birth of Jesus is foretold and occurs in the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John.
Luke 1:26-27 (NASB) says, “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.”
John is pre-Jesus’ birth.
2.) From the very beginning John’s life was going to be “set apart”. The angel told Zacharias, “…For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor…” That may not sound like much to us but in this culture wine was almost like water, it was really common, everyone drank wine, except for those that were set apart for the purposes of God. The angel was telling Zacharias that John was going to be different than the people around him. John was going to have a very distinct purpose for his life.
3.) Which leads to the third thing I’ll highlight, John’s sole purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus. Luke 1:16-17 (NASB) says, “And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
This doesn’t really even apply at this point in history but John didn’t grow up going to college fairs trying to figure out what he was going to do with his life, it was clear from the beginning that he was going to “prepare the way of the Lord”.
I share all of that with you so that I can loop us back around to John 1:6-8 (NASB) which says, “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.”
Here’s what I want us to start with as we head towards the Easter season.
1.) God has laid claim on your life regardless of whether or not you see it, agree with it or accept it. God had already laid claim to John’s life before Jesus had even been formally introduced to the world.
In fact if you read just a few verses earlier than where we’re at now it says in John 1:9-11 (NASB), “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” That sounds a lot like today’s world right? Jesus comes as a light to the world and the yet the world does not know Him. Here’s what I want you to understand, Jesus is still the Light of the World and still has a plan for your life, even if you don’t see it yet.
2.) Like John, you are called and set apart to be a witness for Jesus. You might even read John 1:6-8 like this…
“There came a man sent from God, whose name was (insert your name here). He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.”
Does that describe how you live your life? If not, let's push for some changes so that as many as possible might experience this Easter season having truly seen and embraced the Light of Jesus. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.