Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cast Your Burdens

{This is a continuation of my previous couple of posts}

So what is to be done with the burdens we all carry, especially the burdens of sin Paul referred to in Galatians 6? As I thought about all of this a couple weeks ago, a couple different thoughts and connections flew through my mind.

One was a song I first remember hearing about a month ago at church here. It hit me deep in my heart:
I’d trade these ashes in for beauty,
And wear forgiveness like a crown;
Coming to kiss the feet of mercy,
I lay every burden down:
At the foot of the cross.

The second (and closely related) was thinking about Pilgrim’s Progress – his heavy heavy burden fell away off of his back as he worshipped at the cross.

It’s not like were expected to deal with our burdens on our own! In fact, trying to do so will only end up in disappointment, because there is no way that we can do this life—especially no way that we can lighten the burden of our sin—on our own. The fact is that Jesus has already done that work!

As Paul writes in another letter: “our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:6, emphasis mine). Christ came and lived and died and rose again to take the burden away. The work is finished!!!

It’s like that old kid’s song I listened to as a child (anyone else remember Donut Man? :D) “Cast your burden unto Jesus, for He cares for you!”[1] I’ve heard it a few times here in Uganda, so maybe that’s part of the reason it’s on my mind J

The song mostly comes from 1 Peter 5:6, though it could also partly come from Psalm 55:22. In 1 Peter 5, the verse (“casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you”) directly follows his admonition to submit to one another and to “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Pet. 5:5 and 6). I heard a really good message on this passage my junior year of college while resting in bed, and I’ve always meant to go back and give it a listen when I have my full brain power…..

At any rate, another relevant passage to this topic is Matthew 11:28-30, the oft quoted “come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”—but don’t forget the next verses, the admonition to “Take My yoke….for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Now, I don’t claim to have much theological training or to be an expert on interpreting Scripture….but take a look at the rest of Matthew 11 that proceeds these verses (and yes, I know chapter divisions aren’t inspired either…).

The chapter starts with John the Baptist sending two of his disciples from prison. It continues with Jesus rebuking cities that did not repent of their sin even after seeing the signs of Christ. The verses mentioned in the previous paragraph, examined in this context could be seen in a new light.

The beginning of the chapter shows that wearing the yoke of being Christ’s messenger—while much better than bearing the weight of sin—is not all happy-go-lucky. John was in prison…John was beheaded, simply for declaring God’s truth about sin. And we can wonder at God’s wonders all we want, but unless we repent….we’re worse off than Tyre and Sidon, worse off even than Sodom. That’s a pretty damning view of things, and it comes straight from what Jesus said!

I guess my point here is that God doesn’t take our burden of sins off of our shoulders for our own sakes or so that we can have an easy life. He saves us for a reason: For HIS GLORY, and so that we may SERVE HIM and His people. So YES, we should celebrate the fact that we are no longer burdened by sin! But obviously, we should not use that freedom as license to run off and do our own thing in our own way.

I would say that my general tendency has been to swing too far on the side of still carrying around guilt for my sin….although I know there have certainly been times when I have swung to the “then I’ll do what I want!” extreme. I’ll talk about the former in my next post, and tie in a song that’s currently pretty popular. Any guesses as to what song? ;-)

[1] If you missed out on this classic of my childhood, you can check it out on YouTube here. This is exactly the version I watched on VHS who knows how many times, down to the cute little girls at 1:00 and 1:45 :D

Monday, April 21, 2014

Bearing One Another’s Burdens

{written 4/20}

The other morning I was thinking/processing through all this and journaling about it. And a couple verses came to mind, which is where this post comes from. I was specifically thinking about what an amazing example my roommate had been of the verse about “bearing one another’s burdens”….but also about how I had taken advantage of that, and not been helping her bear her burden.

I looked up the verse, and was kind of surprised by what I found. It’s Galatians 6:2, but only the first half is the familiar line tossed about in the Christian community. The full verse reads “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (NKJV). In my head, I’ve always thought of this verse as a way to help friends feel better about themselves, to help them carry their cares and sorrows.

But that’s not what the context says! The previous verse refers to a person “overtaken in trespass” who should be restored “in a spirit of gentleness,” and the following verses continue that theme of looking at one’s choices and actions.

The previous chapter also references this: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (5:1, emphasis mine). So the burdens Paul is referring to are not “merely” the burdens of daily sorrows and difficulties. Paul’s teaching here goes much deeper. Just this morning in church, one of the pastors was teaching about how the deepest darkest prison is the prison of SIN. And THAT is the yoke Paul was addressing!

My next post or two will be looking more at that…but I wanted to mention it here for the sake of context.

The idea of “bearing one another’s burdens” takes on a whole different light for me once I see the verse within the setting that Paul originally wrote it in! He is not simply calling us to sympathize with one another. No, instead he is instructing his readers to call one another out on habitual sins, to help one another live in the liberty of Christ! He’s talking about a process of discipleship and sanctification, not just someone to listen to the woes of your day.

I am so thankful for the people who God has placed in my life who He has also equipped to do both. I have been blessed with several good listeners who then also turn around and speak truth into me. Because very often I am venting to people when my perspective is off. When I’m not wanting to submit to God’s will, or when I’m just “stuck” in a certain view of a situation. And in all of the above, I often need to hear someone else tell me what I know with my head but what I’m not feeling in my heart.

But, as I wrote in my previous post, I must be careful that I do not look solely or even primarily to those people. And Paul addresses this too: “For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:3). I’m not entirely positive if by this verse Paul is referring to the person in sin, or to the person trying to help him (vs. 1). I’m guessing it applies either way.

The person in sin would obviously be deceiving himself if he tried to proudly act like he didn’t need help and had it all together. But the person trying to help and disciple would also be deceiving himself if he tried to do so out of his own strength. And that’s the direction this verse took me in my musings the other day.

As I thought about the people who had helped me to bear my burdens, I knew they weren’t relying on themselves to do that. They weren’t listening to my burdened heart and then taking and carrying those heavy loads themselves. Instead, they were relying on God’s strength and truth. They were helping me to carry my burdens to Him.

So yes, we are to “bear one another’s burdens.” But that does not mean taking everything from everyone else onto ourselves and then continuing to carry it around with us. We are called to be free!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sources of Satisfaction

In the past week/month, God has used a variety of things to call me out on something which has been an issue in my life for the past several years: Where am I looking for support & fulfillment & satisfaction?

Of course, I know what the answer ought to be – I should be looking to God for those things. But the reality is that over the last weeks/months/even a couple of years, I have been looking to the people around me. Back in high school, I was looking to myself—building walls keeping others out. Neither of these two personal realities is good on their own. I cannot satisfy myself, and other people cannot either. Only God can.

But that requires trusting Him, even when we know that His plans may take us through tough times. I don’t quite know how to articulate this….but in the past couple years my relational life has done a pendulum swing. I started in high school with not letting anyone in….in the middle of college I was maybe closer to a balanced center of finding love and satisfaction in the grace of God….and in the past year the pendulum swung to leaning too heavily on people around me.

Part of the latter is a symptom of the sinful distrust in God which has tried to sprout in my heart as things have not gone as I thought they should since graduation. It’s been a crazy year, full of roller coaster ups and downs. And especially in the months here in Uganda, I’ve been looking to individual people to fulfill my needs rather than truly finding my strength in God alone.

As I said in the first paragraph, God’s been giving me a wakeup call on that. He’s opened my eyes to better see the consequences of me seeking satisfaction primarily from other people. And writing this post isn’t to say I have it perfectly figured out. But I hope that in the coming weeks I will be less needy/demanding and more intentionally caring/loving toward those around me.

Early last month, I read the first chapter of a women’s devotional book[1] that I had “just happened” to find and download for my Kindle app. And it contained a message I greatly needed to hear…but even in the weeks between then and now I have been a very very slow learner in practicing what it taught/reminded me.

In that chapter, Beth Moore tells her readers that she has discovered “what makes life work.” Taking verses from Deuteronomy 7, Colossians 3, and Psalm 63, she challenges us to think about if we have truly taken God as our God, if He is truly our refuge and strength. We should yearn to have relationship and intimacy with Him, not out of a discipline or “have to” attitude, but because we hunger for Him.

“God made our souls to long for Him, and we are not fully satisfied without His presence in our lives,” she writes. She goes on to say that just because we have received salvation through Christ does not guarantee that we are choosing to receive our fulfillment from Him. We can be saved and yet still trying to “do life” by our own power.

She continues, “We are not satisfied by simply accepting salvation and then ascending to heaven when the time comes. Instead, God wants us to have a relationship with Him during our lifetime.” This is certainly something that I have struggled with, because (especially in high school) I often wished I could just escape this life and be done with it all. I just wanted to be home free, in God’s presence. But I’m not. I’m still here.

Rereading this chapter yesterday (when I wrote this) I was again convicted about how much I have tried the two “alternatives” she talks about: “subsistence living” (begging others to fill the vacuum only Christ was meant to fill) and “substitute living” (turning to idols rather than to Christ). Neither of which truly satisfies.

Her application is that we must daily make the choice to very intentionally seek the fulfillment of our needs from God, especially partaking of the food He has given us (His Word) and seeking to have that abide in us. It’s only then that we can be solid and secure, whether people are loving and helpful (which is still nice!) or whether people let us down (which they sometimes/often will, because they are human).

Beth Moore concludes that God’s love is totally unconditional and perfect, and it is better than life (Ps. 63:3). God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us – and that’s why we know that He can be trusted to supply our daily needs. All we need to do is ask!

The weekend before I read this chapter, I had come across this blog post about hungering for God. As I read this young woman’s raw writing, I felt my own heart convicted…and so I began to pray a similar prayer. But in the weeks since then, as God has allowed a variety of circumstances which have tested my response, over and over I have thrown self-pity parties or gone running to people rather than turning to Him. And that is a sin against Him (and others) which I have had to confess this week.

And even though this week has been another hard week, following up on weeks and months of challenges, changes, uncertainties….this time He got my priorities a little straighter. I went to God first. Did it still hurt/cause confusion? For sure. Did I still cry while talking to my mom on the phone about stuff? Oh yeah, I did. Is it still a battle not to be consumed with questioning “why???” or “what if?” and trying to figure out how to make things work my way? Yes, it definitely is.

But I was also able to come to a place—at least for one moment the other morning—where I submitted myself in prayer to whatever God has. And where I found peace in Him. And I pray that I can continue to abide in the Truth and security I found in that moment, no matter how the storms may rage. Because He is the only valid source of true satisfaction.

[1] A Woman and Her God, ©2003 – each chapter by a different author

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Journey to Trusting a Little More

{This is the backstory of the puzzle pieces God brought together this month and that I published a LONG blog post about the other day. Written at the end of March.}

It started a year ago. In the spring semester of 2013 (my last before graduation), the JBU campus experienced a tragedy which impacted most of our small community, at least to some extent. A little less than two weeks later, I experienced a personal tragedy. Nothing in comparison, but it impacted me. That same day, I had to turn in the application to intern with Samaritan’s Purse.

Needless to say—and for even more factors than listed above—it was an emotional semester. On March 3, with the above three happenings swirling in my head, I went on a labyrinth walk as part of a class I was taking. For a bit more about the class, see this post. That day in the labyrinth, seeking God’s peace and wisdom, He brought me to an important realization from Micah 6:8. To quote from the response paper I wrote for the class:
Thinking that I deserve to know why things happen the way they do—or wanting so badly to know what will happen ahead of time—is a sign of pride. God calls us to walk humbly before Him – that includes trusting Him and surrendering our “right” to know why and our ideal plans and dreams.
{You can read the rest of the response here on my other blog.}

There were still a lot of ups and downs in the two months leading to my college graduation…but I hope that truth stuck with me through at least a few of those days. May 4 came, closing out my time of being a student at JBU. At that point, I knew I would be going to N.Ireland with a JBU mission team for the month of June, then interning with SP {yep, they had accepted me!} for July and August. I kind of assumed that I would like SP and would want to get a job there, but I knew that was not for sure.

I also expected to cry at graduation, or at some point during the following week that I stayed in Siloam Springs, but no tears came even as I said goodbye to the place that had been home for four years and to some of my best friends…not knowing if/when I would see them again. The tears started instead on an observation platform in the beautiful N.Ireland (almost exactly nine months ago) as the truth came home that I wouldn’t be back with the team and the rest of my JBU friends in the fall.

And the tears continued raining down as the next two months turned out more confusing than I expected; as I still ended up applying for a job opening (that I had been basically filling) but then was not chosen; as I found myself back home with no easy “real” job leads; as I felt led to offer myself as a teacher (though without any traditional qualifications) to fill a need expressed by a new missionary family; as God provided abundantly and got me here three months later; as I have faced the daily challenges of living in the African bush (plus sickness/a couple injuries); and as I made mistakes and things here have not gone as well as I wish they had.

I feel sorry for my mom and my roommate here (and my pillow, haha), who have faced most of my crying episodes. {And I must not be looking to them (or any people) as my sole source of comfort and satisfaction!} But I am so thankful for the love and encouragement they have consistently provided, pointing me toward the Truth.

On the mountain where I lived in North Carolina during July and August, the question (“Do you trust Me?”) which had been a recurring theme became a command in my heart and mind. Going back and reading those two posts is so convicting, because it’s a lesson I still haven’t finished learning.

Which was a post in and of itself – about how I thought I’d reach a spiritual graduation of sorts concurrent with my college graduation. Even just now, reading the two-part post I wrote in September, it feels like I’m just going around and around, coming back to the same things over and over. But I hope and pray that each time the lesson goes a little deeper—peels back another onion-like layer of my selfishly-inclined heart.

Because even through these past nine months, full of frustration and emotion, God has proved Himself faithful. When I didn’t want to be “stuck” in Dallas without knowing what was coming next, He provided a part-time job and He used that time at home to continue bringing deeper healing to decade-old wounds. When He called me to come to Uganda – even when I was reluctant and distrustful – He poured out His blessings.

When I’ve been tempted to question His goodness, He has brought peace. When things have not gone my way, He has called me to surrender and trust. When I’ve been trying to do things in my own strength, He has convicted me of my natural patterns that are not fully in line with Truth and His best. Because He is a God full of grace and never-ending second chances….if my heart is seeking Him and crying out for His humility. And it’s all for the sake of His great name…so that we may know that He is God. For His glory alone.