The Yoke of Slavery

I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you to upright. Leviticus 26:13

When ‘yoke’ is used, especially in the O.T., it speaks of slavery or bondage to an oppressor. This passage from Leviticus is one example. The Israelites were not freed from the Egyptians through a revolt, an underground movement, or a rebel who rose up to lead the people. They were powerless against a formidable oppressor. Only God could break the bands of their yoke. Bondage was all they had ever known. It was in their DNA.  Four hundred years of it had characterized the existence of the many generations before them.

I may not know this kind of slavery but I can be enslaved nonetheless to a bully, a spouse, a sibling, even an aging parent. Someone got the upper hand when I was once in a compromised position.  The relational pattern was set in stone and perhaps I don’t presently have the personal strength to shake up the dynamics. Oh, but God does. He is in me and I need not be a bully in return in order to be freed from their control. There is holy strength in quietness and resolve. There is holy strength in the man or woman who know that they answer to God first. There is holy strength in the person who is confident before a bully because the Lord is on their side.

A yoke of slavery also plagues me when I fail to leave the unholy ways of my family.  At conversion, my allegiance is to be re-defined.  How difficult though to overcome generational yokes. We are shown very early in life that there is the ‘family way of doing things’ and if you want to enjoy its community, you have to stay in step. These unholy legacies don’t just include things like infidelity, anger, alcoholism, addictive behaviors, depression or a pre-disposition to a certain disease.  There are more insidious culprits such as a hatred of men, or women, a despising of the church, and even a racial bigotry between the north and the south, the blacks and the whites, and Christians against non-Christians.

Isaiah said, Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord; Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Isaiah 51:1  The message is clear. I have been shaped by those who raised me. It is imperative that every child of God look closely at their daily choices to see if there is still a yoke to those who put pressure on us to be like them. I am to be more like my Heavenly Father than my earthly one.  My new birth trumps my initial birth.

How do I take off this yoke of slavery?  First, I ask God to expose my ungodly connections and make me willing to align with Jesus.  He will start turning on the light.  Each time I cave and cower, I repent for doing what Jesus would not do. I take new paths of righteousness armed with scripture and the power of the Spirit.  It may result in being out of step with my family of origin.  Am I willing to be the child of God that Jesus would be if He lived my life?  Only grace will enable it.  Only faith will propel it into the future.

Lord, this is the hard and steep path but oh, how blessed I will be to keep in step with You, to walk in Your footprints. Amen

The Yoke of Shame

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. Romans 4:7-8

Every person is born with a sense of shame because of Adam and Eve’s sin. We know we are flawed and are therefore shy before a holy God. The more we add sin to our resume, the more shame grows and the heavier the yoke becomes.

I have fought my own internal battle over the years. I have asked myself repeatedly, “How can I get over what I’ve done? Has Jesus totally forgiven me?” The yoke had me by the throat.

Worshipers in the ancient world knew shame well. They would bring their sacrifices; animals, even newborn babies, to kill at the altar; all because they had a sense that they needed to calm angry gods. Their faith was in the wrong god but their conscience was keen in sensing that there was One higher than them who was just and holy.

Are you living out a life sentence of depression as you rehearse your failures? Does your track record haunt you like a ghost? If you have confessed your sin but still feel guilty, realize that when God forgives, he separates your sin from you. One of the words for ‘forgive’ is to ‘send away’. God took that ‘thing’ for which you repented, took it off of you and put it on Jesus. When you can’t hold your head up, you must remember that you are not your sin.

Satan accuses. People name call. But Jesus calls His forgiven children ‘righteous’. The beautiful names He confers on us form an umbrella under which we live and enjoy peace with God. The names are numerous, each one meaning something beautiful, and it is each one of these that I must rehearse when I am weighed down by shame. Whether people-inflicted or Satan-inflicted, shame need not be my yoke. It was Jesus’ yoke when He died in my place. I am to live like Abraham. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Romans 4:20-21

How do I take off this yoke? Believe God. See yourself standing in the flow of God’s forgiveness and then walk by faith.  Be sure to have a plan. Satan is the perpetual accuser of the brethren. He will come at you again with old tapes. Be ready with scripture. You will have to quote it out loud and be assured that he will flee. Remember, you are forgiven whether you feel like you are or not. Feelings are unreliable but the Word of God is true and abides forever.

For every one who is deciding to walk in forgiveness, by faith, remove the yoke of shame from their shoulders, Jesus. Amen

You Can Thrive

“Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Matthew 13:8,23

My prayer this morning is this, “Jesus, show me what you pictured when you spoke this parable. Paint it for me. Rise up in me and show me how you feel about the power of what You describe. You are God and can see into men’s hearts. What does a hundred-fold harvest look like as it’s growing? Let me want this more than I’ve wanted anything – ever.”

Picture this slow motion movie ~ The best of all seeds fall from the hand of God. They land in perfect soil ~ fertile, aerated, and treated. The moment they hit the dirt, germination happens and from the first moment, the promise of something great begins to happen.

I can picture it, can’t you? Don’t you want it? I sure do. I want pristine conditions for spiritual seeds. How incredible is it that heaven’s seeds can come and grow inside of me! God is generous to share them without me having to go to heaven first. “The kingdom is here, now”, Jesus said.

What makes my heart the perfect place to grow heaven’s seeds?  I am open at all times. Willing to listen. Willing to learn. Insatiably hungry. Willing to lay defenses aside. Willing to be wrong. Willing to change.   When seeds hit my soil, no demonic birds can steal it. No limestone foundation comprised of unresolved issues prohibit growth. No weeds are anywhere in sight to crowd out the free expanse of this new planting. Stunning results are assured. What will I become with heaven’s seeds growing inside of me? There is no mystery here. I become the tree in Psalm One; battered at times by the winds of adversity but never fearing annihilation.

Today, I move toward this goal by engaging my personal Gardener. “I am the vine, my Father is the husbandman – or vine dresser.’ John 15:1 ESV I know that my Father constantly assesses the garden of my soul. He searches me and knows what it will take to improve my soil conditions. He never passes judgment to declare me hopeless if I ask for help. He gives specific spiritual guidance. He reveals every rock and why it’s there. He changes my appetite if I love the things of this world too much. He is my compassionate Healer when worries block my ears from hearing Him. He wants my harvest even more than I do.

I’m a picture person. Right now, I see Him slowly walking the pathways of my heart. He’s tilling and inspecting the soil…smiling at the possibilities.

Your seeds are infused with resurrection power – the same that raised You from the dead, Jesus. Don’t let me limit what You want to do by being unteachable. Speak into my soul and be relentless. In Jesus’ name, Amen  

The Mistakes of 2019

Failure.  It’s instinctive to handle it poorly.  Because of that, it’s impossible to see 2020 as a clean slate if I’m not at peace with my yesterdays.

What are the wrong ways to handle failure?  There are at least two.

1. Underestimate it.

When I do, I fail to see it as God sees it.  I minimize the size of it.  I re-shape it to reduce it to something trivial when, in fact, it probably wasn’t.  I might believe it to be such a small offense that I don’t need to confess it and ask for God’s forgiveness. At best, I ask for it casually like it’s no big deal.

When God’s Spirit convicts me, I am defensive.  I remind Him that everyone has weaknesses.  Perhaps I did it in secret and it was a sin of the heart.  I reason that no one got hurt but I fail to see that the one who was offended was the only One who matters.  I sinned against God. Fragile egos defend themselves.  I fear I can’t survive the knowledge of my own depravity. Underestimating failures causes me to live with a calloused heart. I am not experienced by others as someone humble and gracious.

2.  Overestimate it.

I fail to understand grace and believe my failure to be unforgiveable. I must first wallow in guilt, prove myself to be better than that, and convince God that I am sorry enough. My sin looms large and God’s mercy appears to be small.

My only experience with failures and forgiveness comes through the film of earthly relationships. Unfortunately, some people refuse to forgive. They are prone to forever remind me of my failures. I wear them like scarlet letters. I fear that God will do what my human counterparts have done. I make sure to punish myself with condemning messages before God has a chance to. Though I say I believe that He has put my sins behind his back, never to take them out again to accuse me, my heart tells on me as I fixate on my guilt.

Overestimating my failures feels like a holy response. It is anything but. It is a denial of God’s mercy. It is a denial of the purpose of the cross. It’s choosing to live in unbelief regarding everything Jesus promised when He died for my sins as if He was the One who committed them.

God’s mercies are new every morning.  This confession is one of the pillars of our faith.  This truth can be embraced before we sin.  It can be embraced again while we grieve our sin.  And finally, it is passionately embraced as we lift our gaze from the dust to look to God for new tomorrows.

The righteous may fall seven times but still get up. Proverbs 24:16

Mourning and Comforters

Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4

None of us is lacking for reasons to mourn. If we see the world the way it truly is, through the lens of the Gospel, it is enough to cause deep sadness. We are so far away from our Creator’s intentions. The fall in the Garden of Eden ushered in a curse so pervasive that there is no part of life that has not been affected. All around me, there is profound brokenness.

The best of relationships are tainted by sin natures. Everyone, without redemption and a new life built on the foundation of God’s Word, is fragile. Words shatter egos. Betrayals end a friendship. Careless accusations fracture a parent/child relationship. Disappointments usher in a grief that has no end. Then there is the mourning that grips a person on the other side of losses; death, health, vocation, friendships, loss of innocence.

It’s wonderful when God sends a comforter who speaks deeply into my soul. I am blessed to have a few around me that do that for me. And while the church should be full of comforters, they are sparse if the church is skin deep. If I am willing to mourn, or if I’m already mourning, where is the comfort Jesus speaks of with certainty?

  • If I mourn the past, I find comfort in God’s embrace. He says that no pain is wasted and nothing is outside of redemption.
  • If I mourn a betrayal, I find comfort in God’s embrace. Whatever I lack, He promises to provide. He fills me up so I can give and forgive.
  • If I mourn my limitations, I find comfort in God’s embrace. I know that one day I will enjoy eternal life on a new earth. Every single limitation will be eliminated.
  • If I mourn the deterioration of this world, I find comfort in God’s embrace. God’s plan is to restore paradise and make everything shiny and new.

The Comforter and comfort are one in the same. The Comforter speaks the Word and it means something because I have a relationship with the One who speaks it. If I only see comfort as words on a page, they will be hollow when the pain consumes my attention. They’ll be no more satisfying than a Chinese proverb. But if I have a relationship with the Comforter, the scripture He whispers into my soul bring joy, hope, and comfort even in the tears.

Brave children cry. Brave adults cry. You cried and Your Father sent you angels to comfort You. I will not fear that any abyss is too deep. Amen

 

A Takeover But Not Of The Hostile Kind

[Samuel said to Saul] The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you and you will prophesy with them and will be transformed into another man. And let it be when these signs come upon you that you do as occasion serves you, for God is with you. And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart. All who knew him earlier saw that and said, “What is this that is come to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” I Samuel 10:6-9 

The Spirit of God came upon certain individuals in the Old Testament and as a result, they came under His influence. They were changed and equipped to fulfill their destiny as king, prophet, or servant. Is it possible that something so amazing and so rare can be taken for granted when it happens today? Yes. I can be so used to the vernacular of the ‘indwelling of the Spirit’ that I’m numb to the sheer wonder of it. The privilege of housing Glory can be tragically lost on me.

At the very moment I believed in Jesus and embraced Him as Lord, the Spirit of the LORD came upon me too. He didn’t make a visitation as He did under the old covenant. He made me His permanent dwelling place and transformed me into a new person. The same phenomenon that Saul experienced happened to me. At my spiritual birth, I was called to an eternal destiny and am fully equipped to accomplish it under the power of God’s anointing.

Those from Saul’s hometown couldn’t believe the change. They were incredulous and remarked to one another, “Who is this? Is Saul a prophet?” It was a takeover of the heavenly kind, producing the fruits and giftings of the Spirit of God. His new, unnatural abilities could only be explained by his encounter with God.

It is our privilege to walk out our calling. We are to be seen as weak, yet strong in Christ. Dull, yet brilliant in His wisdom. Unqualified, yet uniquely gifted in ways no one can explain. Anything done in the flesh will leave others quite bored. Our efforts will lack the power of that synergistic connection between God and His child.

Take me outside of what I can naturally accomplish so that Your signature is clearly legible. To You be all glory. Amen

Beneath The Noise Of My Life

But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat.  John 6: 20-21

Jesus’ disciples are in a boat in the middle of the sea.  The opposite shore is nowhere in sight.  It is dark and the sea is churning.  Uncertainty and fear overtake them.  At that moment, Jesus appears and is walking toward them on top of the water.  They had just seen Him feed five thousand people with one small meal yet this sight is beyond comprehension.  His power continually surprises them.  Each time it is manifested, it is in an other worldly context and their finite minds are challenged.

Jesus, knowing their fear, “It’s Me. Don’t be afraid.”  Like a child whose parent shows up to take care of everything, their fears turn to calm.  Pounding heartbeats normalized.  Adrenalin subsided. Consider how the elements of this story live on past the disciple’s time.

All of us are navigating our lives.  Often, there’s no light on our path. Wisdom for the next step is completely elusive. The shore is behind us. Everything familiar is out of sight.  We are in uncharted waters, feeling inadequate.  The sea is beginning to churn.  Passages are difficult enough without storms complicating them.  Fears begin to intensify and rational thought decreases.  Roar of the waves bombard our senses and functioning normally is not an option.

Where is Jesus?  He is on the horizon and asks to be invited into the boat.  His words can be heard even in the midst of the storm.  “It’s Me.  Don’t be afraid.”  We realize we don’t have to make the voyage alone.  The One who can control the storm with a mere whisper is our companion.

Never has a voice been as sweet as Yours, Lord, heard quietly beneath the noise of my life. You have not abandoned Me. Take me safely home.  Amen

 

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