Deceptive Invitations

“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give them rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me and you will find rest for your souls. For my burden is easy and light.” Matt. 11:28-30

This invitation to come is quite complex. At surface glance, one would make an interpretation of the invitation that could be quite incorrect. Have you ever received an invitation to something, and when you arrived it wasn’t at all what you expected? I believe this invitation, depending on your expectations, will be either worse or better than expected.

If you receive this invitation as a way out of a bad circumstance or as a “too good to be true” offer of a pain free existence, you are deceiving yourselves and missing the point.

Think of this invitation in light of the rest of scripture. We are promised trials, yet given peace. We live in dread, but find hope. We are sorrowful, yet know joy. The Bible is full of paradox, and this passage is really no different.

The yoke and burden of Christ is not an offer of a life of ease. It is an offer of peace and rest, and of “not alone” promises. It’s an offer to be relieved of our severe independence.

Come to me is an exquisite, personal beckoning of a Savior who already set the score, made His intentions known. This Savior is simply saying come, and just a little while later He will ransom and rescue us. You see, He was making a way, and He puts the next move into our hands. “Come”.

I have had already came to you, now you must turn towards me.

It’s our move. Will we come, truly come? We often say we do, and rest sounds enticing. We come on Sunday morning, we come when our bank accounts are empty, we come when our world is falling apart. But what is it we are looking for? If we were honest, I think we are looking for a relief from pain and when that doesn’t occur-we become disengaged. I think we are looking for someone to help us accomplish some behavior modification, so our world and relationships are a little easier.

Sometimes we think that if we slow our schedule, if we say no more, and if we think about Jesus more – that we have made such efforts to come that God then in turn gives us the gift of rest. We tweaked a few things, cried a few tears, and quieted ourselves a bit – we are so proud of ourselves. Yet, a little time goes by and we find ourselves once again in a fruitless season, tired, weary, and worn.

I think it is important to note that what we find here similar to the invitation in John 15. Remain in me and I will remain in you, abide in me and I in you. The other major part of that passage, though, is a promise to prune and a promise of fruit bearing.

In much the same way, the Savior says come to me. Attach yourself to me as two oxen attached. The stronger one carries the bulk of the weight to teach the younger, weaker ox how to do the job.

We attach ourselves to Christ not because it alleviates the work and effort of living in a fallen world. We attach ourselves to Christ, so we may learn from Him, so He may teach us-and so he may take the weight.

Notice how it states you will find rest for your souls. Rest for your soul, the place where your thoughts, will, and emotions lie. The soul is a quite complex place. For rest to come to our soul, a major work of surrender in our will must be accomplished. For rest to come, a renewing of our mind must occur. And, for rest to come, our emotions-feelings must be acknowledged, valued, and surrendered. This isn’t a one season process, this is an ongoing daily surrender and sanctifying process.

To accept an invitation to comes means you are committing your whole self to the work of Christ. You will accept the suffering and agonizing pain of surrendering your will. You will discipline yourself to allowing Christ all the way in, you will say yes always. He will be your joy and your strength, oh yes, but you will also find love in the discipline, in the painful process of becoming more like Christ.

Here is the most important part, you won’t carry it alone. They attach the two oxen together, so that the stronger ox can carry the weight and guide the weaker ox. Jesus says take my yoke upon you. It’s a yoke of grace, love, free justification, peace, freedom, and more. His yoke is gracious, yet His yoke will cause us to be more like Him. We become like the ox that carries the weight. He nurtures righteousness against our very sinful nature. Our desire to grow, to run this race will be an overflow of what we are attached to-is it really Christ? Or is it this world?

Jesus is gentle, humble, and servant hearted. He is a friend to all. He loves mercy and justice. He forgives the most vile. Who or what have we attached ourselves to and can we confidently say it is Christ?

His yoke is easy. How is that you say? This yoke sounds to be so burdensome. Is it though? When it is Christ in me, and no longer I carrying the weight. When it is He who bore my sin, my disgraceful self-He covered in unabounding grace.

The word yoke can be defined in the Greek as well-fitted. So, it is not so much easy as much as it fits you perfectly. God formed, created, and made you. And the yoke that He invites us to take is one of perfect fit for you. His yoke is your saving grace.

His burden is light reminds us that there is such a burden to bear. This invitation to come is not for a way out, it is not to make life easier for you. There are burdens to bear, a cross to carry-but Jesus says-you are not alone. I will be with you, I am for you. He says remain in me and I will remain in you. I will prune the broken places and I will cause you to bear fruit. It is me in you.

A weary soul can find rest in him when the soul is surrendered. Rest and peace in the midst of pain is much more authentic than a rest and peace as a result of a pain free existence. An invitation to come given to my true self, the self that is broken and dire need of repair and repentance is powerful and leaves me speechless. And, not only does it leave me grateful, it leaves me humbled and it leads me to repentance and trust. It leads me to surrender. And it is in that surrender that I find the true shared yoke of peace and rest.

May we remember that this sweet invitation to come is less about relief and more about dependency. It is less about freedom from pain and more about surrender in the pain. It is less about easy, and more about sharing the hard. We accept an invitation to come, yet we accept to not only receive but to learn .

When Nothing Makes Sense

Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen, Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I’m singing joyful praise to GOD. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on GOD ’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength. I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountain!

Habakkuk 3:17-19 MSG

I first stumbled on this verse back in 2010. It was just a few years after my father died, about 6 months after we had to hastily resign our first ministry position, and the day that my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 incurable breast cancer.

I still remember the already present grief beginning to balloon up to a popping point. The dread, the anticipation that filled every part of my body was suffocating.

I actually still remember the moment. I was sitting in my favorite chair in the living room. Cavin was down for a nap. I read this passage. And then I read Romans 4. Abraham believed against all hope.

And that became my prayer. It became a lifeline. When it was so uncertain, when confusion reigned more than clarity-it was my home I walked into. I thought if Habakkuk could show such faith in the midst of his questions, suffering and loss, so can I. I just need to find Him in the midst of this. He promises that when we seek Him, we will find Him when we seek with all of our hearts. And so I began…

I stumbled through the years as more suffering came, but this prayer remained. Even in my doubt, when the fear drowned out His perfect love, and when I was convinced I was all alone-I held on to fragmented hope.

That season came and went, and the story was written. The chapters were completed and the book closed. Nonetheless, the lessons of those years changed me forever. The goodbyes because of death were no more painful then the goodbyes to myself as I had known her-the goodbyes to stability and safety that I had always had.

Yet, though it all, God was faithful. In fact, He was more than faithful. There was not one moment that He was not with me, even if I may have doubted in the darkness. I look back and I reflect regularly and I remember the goodness of my God. Protection and provision remained mine throughout, and it continues today.

I am convinced, with Paul, that neither death nor life or anything else in all of this fallen world, can separate us from a God who so redemptively and restoratively loves us.

Do I experience fear? Of course. And sometimes even dreadful anticipation. Yet, it does not have a stronghold on me. Fear is a normal human emotion that will rear its ugly head at times. Yet, I believe the key is we must not act or behave out of that fear or have cyclical thoughts derived from the fear. We must acknowledge our fear and surrender to the perfect love that pushes out all fear.

I love the prophet Habakkuk. He is a companion on this journey through the wilderness. He humbly and vulnerably gives voice to the same fear, incredulous questioning, and confusion that we regularly feel when trying to understand the ways of our God.

His story takes place in the seventh century B.C. The summary of it is that Habakkuk has discovered that God plans to use the godless to punish the godly. Babylon would bring punishment upon Israel.

We cannot understand God’s purposes, yet He has them. This purpose of God’s was just as confusing or seemingly ridiculous as His current purposes today in our own political climate.

Habakkuk’s response was cuttingly honest. He complains and he questions. He asks questions like, “Why do you make me look at injustice”? Why don’t you listen, why don’t you save?” He shouts, “Justice is perverted, conflict abounds, you are tolerating wrong!”

God’s response is this, “Look at the nations and watch-and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told”. And then proceeds to describe how utterly horrible the Babylonians are. Yet, He is raising them up.


Habakkuk responds with, “Why do you tolerate the treacherous?”

He wonders if He will be rebuked. Will God chastise me, discipline me for questioning His sovereignty? Habakkuk is willing to acknowledge his fear, he digs into the pain of confusion, and he wrestles and asks the hard questions. The key is that he is doing this with the Lord, before the Lord, and in surrender to the Lord. God invites us to wrestle, He just invites us to do it with him. Because there will come a point where He speaks, and we begin to hear.

Yet, God is patient. He responds, He doesn’t make His way completely clear, but He responds. He reminds him of His promises to His people. Though it linger, wait for it. It will not prove false. He says, live by faith.

The rule of the Babylonians was not a sign of God’s approval, it was simply part of His purposes.

We cannot understand all of the purposes of our God, but that does not change His character or His promises. Habakkuk fights and hears from God until he breaks through the questioning and fear, and finds a peace in trusting. He begins to recount the faithful deeds of God, he is reminded of His greatness, the magnitude of His sovereignty. And there he finds a place of renewed trust. A commitment in faith no matter the loss or suffering that might be present or might come.

When uncertainty in life is present, when possible battle is on the horizon, when we just can’t understand what God is up to…what can we learn from this honest, strong, vulnerable prophet?

Well, first, we have God’s Word to guide us. Read and meditate on His Word, and He will give you wisdom and insight that will ease your questioning. Learn about His character and confidence will fill in the gaps of a lack of understanding. There are a few examples from Habakkuk we can follow:

  1. Honesty and vulnerability with God.
  2. Time in prayer and His presence.
  3. Surrender
  4. Remember the goodness of our God.

Although, it may come in the form of requests, I think sometimes we spend more time telling God what He should do and how He should do it. Rather we should intently and passionately express how we feel about what He is doing, and then move to find surrender in that. There is nothing wrong with praying for an outcome, if our prayer at the end is always – “not my will, but yours be done”.

Relationship and trust with the living God will be built more through vulnerability with and surrender to our Savior, then through a constant list of requests and demands for Him to do what we want.

There is a passage in Psalm 73 where the writer is crying out in his own confusion of what seems to be God’s failure of His people. Then the Psalmist states this, “When I sought to understand this it was oppressive to me, until I went into His sanctuary.” (God’s presence). God grants understanding, insight, and wisdom when we seek Him. It may not be in full, because here we know only in part-but He always offers more when we seek Him.

In the end, when fully dependent on our Savior, we have nothing to fear or dread in life, in this nation, or this world. Trust in the sovereignty of our God. He is faithful always. May we be found resting in peace, singing in joy, and firmly confident in our God.

O Winter, Where is Thy Sting?

The clouds cover the sun, there is a slight chill in the air. Shades of color begin to hint that a season is turning. Days are moving shorter, and my heart beats faster. The smells of warm spice fill the air, and I briefly remember this season in years past. A time before I was acquainted with the word, “depression”. A time when the season and the one to come was filled only with sweet holiday smells, playful adventures, and memories. And then time came and time went, and I grew. Depression became personal. 

It seems each year the depression fight increases. A healthy spirit and soul rage war against a body that still insists on keeping depression caged within. And, although, I have become well acquainted with its ways and even know how to keep it within my control-it sneaks through most in the cold seasons. 

My heart is beating faster and earlier each year as the air turns with the color of the trees. Seasonal depression creeps its way in and I am not ready for it. 

Are you familiar with it? This darkness. I know many are. I have had many a quiet conversation about it. Fall and winter represent death and while we love the smell of pumpkin and apples, the leaves are changing colors because they are dying. They will fall, and snow will fall, and the earth will become dry and barren. The clouds will cover the sun and bitter cold will seep in. Try as hard as we might, we can’t stop the turning of the seasons. And, in much the same way, we can’t stop the passing of our lives. The barren, dry, bitter seasons that cease us. The depression that overtakes us. The proverbial clouds that cover the light of day. 

No, we can’t stop the passing of time and our bodies may struggle with a powerful sickness and we may sometimes forget the light, but there is a quiet redemptive narrative that takes place in the midst of the barren seasons. 

This story, this exquisite narrative speaks of restorative power that takes our brokenness and spins beauty and grace. It tells of a Father that makes the hard places soft and tender. A God who does His greatest work in the winter, whispering-shh, my child, new life comes only from what has been laid to rest. For what must live, must first die.

I can look at the impending winter with dread, I can close my eyes and pretend it’s spring. I can busy myself to ignore the darkness. I can let myself be swallowed in the darkness. Yet, this causes me to think of a simple statement in 1 Peter 1 where it implores us to not return to our futile ways of living. You who know redemption, you have hope. You who know redemption, you know the winter is necessary. Things must die, so that others can live. Pruning, change, barrenness – all of these are necessary. 

Depression, while it’s a thorn in my side, it does not control me or define me. Winter seasons, either metaphorically or literally, do not closet my hope. 1 Peter 1 says we have been given a living hope. It’s a LIVING hope. Time will pass, seasons will change, uncertainty is inevitable – but this hope – His hope, oh it will never tarnish, fade, or waiver. His hope remains through all seasons. It’s a hope that He is making all things new. A hope that restoration and redemption will be birthed out of barren, winter seasons. New life will come again.

Rest, solace in Him is our prescription. Facing the darkness, naming the depression – acknowledging our barren seasons, this is the solution. Self care, soul care become life lines. Warm drinks shared with friends, vulnerable words spoken with mentors and counselors-this becomes like the air we breathe. Beware of isolation. Ignorance, busyness, and avoidance will not cut it. For some, it may get you by until spring. Yet, the treasure of true redemption and the “all things new” narrative is experienced only when one is willing to acknowledge, accept, process, and surrender. 

Depression no longer causes me fear, and although it remains a part of me, it does not control me or define me. Spring will come, and sun will shine again – but until then – I will embrace the pruning of winter. I will breathe deeply. I will dance in the leaves and I will smile at the snow. I will step up my efforts in soul care, and I will insist on extra time with Jesus. I will play with my family and make time with my friends. All the while, I will lean heavily on grace. Grace to sustain, grace to breathe, grace to live. 

My heart smiles at the thought of God’s work this winter. Oh what will be pruned, what will be changed? What will be redeemed and restored? What beautiful work shall have me shouting, “O taste and see that He is good”!

“The Father’s work in us does not sleep-though in spiritual winters he retracts all advertisement. And when He does so, He is purifying our faith, strengthening our character, conserving our energy, and preparing us for the future. The sleepy days of winter hide us so that the seductive days of summer will not ruin us.” A. Chole

Beautifully Losing Control

Sometimes real living, true abundant living is in the torrent of the waves. All too often, we spend our time working to build a safe haven from the waves of life. Family support surrounding us, a nice house, a reliant car, a nice savings, and retirement waiting for us in the end: the American dream. Or is it? God’s economy just does not work the same way ours does, and sometimes He calls us off the safe shore into the crazy, torrent of waves. And, we would find, that in Him, even in the waves it is most safe. Why? Because He said, “come”…

We go to Maine every summer at least once. It’s the best place on earth and don’t ask me why I haven’t moved there. Because I have seriously begged God to send us. We have thought of many fantastic ministry opportunities. Church at the Inn, Church/Candy Store, RV Chaplain (that’s a thing, right?)…

Sigh…to no avail…He is not listening.

Back to my point, the sea is my favorite place to be. Mostly on the shore, though, especially in Maine where the water temp is 50 degrees or less. I watch kids and adults frolic in the water as if it’s warm and cozy, but I know the truth. It’s not. My kids are just now getting brave enough to go to the edge. And, Cavin actually now does go all the way in. Yet, the waves still unnerve all of them a bit.

The cold and waves keep me out. I stay just where it’s calm, right at the waters edge where the tide is coming in.

Yet, I always think that the water looks so refreshing and the waves look fun…exciting.

Our most recent vacation, I decided I was done gazing. I wanted to run in, just go for it. (I know, this is my pathetic – exciting life. Humor me, please.) I made Brad promise to go with me. But we didn’t do it right away. The kids needed this and that. I didn’t want to get soaking wet right at first, because then I would be uncomfortable and cold.

Brad kept asking me through the day, so are you ready, you still want to do this? Um sure, maybe in a little while.

Finally, I realized I couldn’t back out, because well, I don’t back out.

I got myself all geared up again and we went running as fast as we could. The cold hit me, seeping into my skin and dropping the overall temperature of the air. Brad leaped in…and I, well, I came to sudden halt as soon as I felt the cold on my waist and the first wave begin to hit. I am seriously a wimp.

After dancing around for a minute or more, I realized how ridiculous I was acting. I took a deep breath and just went under. It was freezing – 40-50 degrees freezing. It took my breath away. However, I relaxed and begin to get a little used to cold. Until each wave hit me again…

My point is, though, it was invigorating. Refreshing. And a whole lot of fun.

Sometimes, the best place to be is in the middle of the waves. Even when it’s cold and uncomfortable, and each wave that comes knocks you off your feet and seems to take a little control. Where nothing is safe, everything is uncertain, and the hit of each wave chills you to the bone. If God says step out-rather-leap out of this boat, wouldn’t the waves be better than the calm and safety of the boat or shore?

When he calls us to step out, like Peter, we call out, “If it is you Lord – I will come – if it is you I will go”. We get so hesitant, we doubt. Sometimes, sometimes He wants us to throw doubt to the wind and just dive in. Trusting that the miracles and all that we need will follow.

Still He says come. If we step out, we are stepping out into waves-fog-maybe even a storm or two. Yet, we are also stepping out into of the sun on the sea, vastness of open spaces, a wild and invigorating ride on the waves.

You see it’s not always fog and storm, sometimes there are clear skies and radiant sun. But, when you step out of the safe boat, there will always be waves. Sometimes small, sometimes big. Waves are a certainty.

There comes a point when God will call us away from the shore. He will lead us to the water, not away from it. There will come a time where He calls us to step out into the torrent of the waves. Do we trust Him enough? Will we keep our eyes upon Him, not falter or waiver, just steady trust?

This level of trust, the courage to leap – it does not come easily. This requires us to dig deep, and acknowledge our insecurities and fears. Which will reveal our lack of trust, and in the end, surrender. How much in our life have we not tried, done, or accomplished because of hidden insecurities and fears? What comparisons have held you captive? How many relationships went undone because we just couldn’t take the risk? If we become inwardly healthy, we will find we now have all that we need in Him to take a dive-to take a risk.

Our Spirit is willing, yet our flesh is weak. We become convinced that safe is better. When Christ says it is better to lose your life in full surrender to Him, we unintentionally squander our time, talent, and resources trying to save it.

There is a favorite song of mine by Bethel Music that says this:

“And further and further my heart moves away from the shore. Whatever it looks like, whatever may come I am yours. Then you crash over me and I’ve lost control, but I am free. I’m going under, I’m in over my head. Whether I sink or whether I swim, it makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over my head.”

Do we desire so much of Him, His path for our lives that we will allow ourselves to be “in over our head”? The waves are not always bad, sometimes they represent the beautiful adventures of following Christ.

When we follow God in abandoned surrender and obedience, He will overwhelm us with how He responds. I hear too many people (myself included) insisting on the safety of the shore when God is calling them into the waves.

Is He calling you to step out of the boat or to move away from the safety of the shore? What “safe” place are you clinging to? What is He calling you to do? Where is He calling you to go? Have a little faith and step out.

For the Sake of Peace, Rock the Boat

Romans 12:9-10, 17-18:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other…

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

In efforts to keep peace, we stay silent, we clinch our teeth and determine to better love that person who rubs us raw. And although there may be times where God whispers, “Be still, be silent”, we miss other opportunities to speak the truth in love.

When we avoid conflict, is it because we are afraid we will hurt the other person? Is it because we just feel too awkward, so awkward that it can make us physically ill. Or, do we simply feel it is not worth our time or effort?

We will go to many lengths to avoid a person or situation.

But is it really about them and is it more about us? In what ways have we rubbed a person raw? How have our words, our actions, our facial expressions wounded another person?

Better yet, maybe we think we have put on a great face and clenched our teeth tight enough-but our deep rooted hurt and anger is beginning to leak out all over our interactions with that person.

No matter how hard we may try, covering our ugliness towards a person or ignoring the pain experienced by another person will never offer real peace. In the end all that will produce is a false peace shrouded by false love and intentional avoidance.

God’s Word tells us in James that our quarrels and fights come from the “passions at war within us”.

We must deal with our own brokenness and we must name the pain caused by others. Whether this leads to a full confrontation will be up to the leading of the Holy Spirit, the other person’s willingness, and our determination to grow in the process and seek or find forgiveness.

To truly love, to love well, is to be willing to go the hard way of acknowledging disappointments, failures, and hurt. It requires us to see the other as God would. Eyes with mercy, clothed with compassion, hands offered in grace and forgiveness. Sometimes this is done quietly with God alone, in those moments He says “Be still and silent”. And, many times, it comes when we are willing to lay down our pride, ask God to help us, and go share truth in love. Or it comes when we humble ourselves, acknowledge our wrongdoing, and ask for forgiveness.

Why we do cheapen grace and mercy for others by living in ways of false peace and false love? Why does it seem that it is actually a good thing to self protect when that usually only results in pain and broken relationships?

If we could pull our eyes off our neighbor long enough to take a good look inside, judgements tend to slip away. Our eyes become so full of our own mess that we flinch to think we had a right to remove another’s mess. Mercy triumphs over judgement. Always. Truth in love triumphs over passivity. Always. Does mercy always mean silence? Does mercy always mean simply walking away? I don’t think so. If our walking away is not sensitively led by the Holy Spirit, it inevitably results in avoidance, passive aggressive behavior, manipulation, and more.

How do you know when to stay silent or when to speak? Listen to God’s voice. He leads, He whispers move or stop. Ultimately, if you find yourself in conflict or needing to confront, consider this, I read this once somewhere in a biblical counseling article and took note of it:

“Peace-makers see conflict as an assignment, not an accident. They approach the problem with humility, reasonableness, and seeking wisdom from God (James 3:17-18). They do not intimidate, but they also do not hide. They expect conflict, embrace the opportunity to resolve things biblically, and have an urgency to keep unity in the midst of hard times.”

I am learning this over and over again. If someone has wronged you or offended you, share truth with the right purpose…

  • It’s not your role to change character or to help a person become self aware. That is God in them. The extent to which a person is self-aware is usually the extent to which they are able to receive truth of offense.
  • Is there trust and respect?
  • Are there ears to hear and a heart to respond? Most times there is if only we approach the person with humility.
  • Ultimately, what are you trying to accomplish or gain?

Finally, if you know you have offended or wounded a person – even if you may not understand it completely – humble yourself and go share love and request forgiveness. Don’t let it go dormant, don’t avoid.

Our living in peace with one another will not mean passivity and ignorance. It means we strive to live in peace, actively seek peace. Search for it and work for it as the treasure it is. Listen tenderly to the Spirit. Take the necessary inside look to discover your brokenness. For the sake of peace, rock the boat, say only what is necessary, love deeply and truly. Then watch our faithful and merciful God work.

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