What is the Rest That Jesus Gives? (Continued)

 

In my last blog I said I was working on two problems.  My first problem was to determine what Jesus meant about the rest he invites is to, and second, how his words related to the words of the apostle Paul.  Solving these two problems could lead to the beginning of a theology of rest.

Our pastor challenged us with two passages of scripture.  The first passage is Matthew 11:28-30 (Contemporary English Version):

If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest. Take the yoke I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me. I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest.  This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light.

The key words in this translation from the Greek are heavy (to weigh down, carry a heavy load), burdens (weary, work related fatigue), and rest (a temporary cessation of labor, motion).

Jesus can give this invitation because he took time to be alone with God in order to find the help and comfort he needed. The invitation is to those who are carrying heavy emotional and physical burdens.

A yoke is for two animals and Jesus uses that as a metaphor for our relationship with him.  Jesus is already there “in-yoked,” and asks us to join him in the yoke.  Jesus is then alongside us to give respite from our emotional, physical, and spiritual fatigue.

The metaphor of coming alongside is how Jesus describes the work of the Holy Spirit in John 14 and 15.  The Spirit comes alongside us as an intercessor, consoler, advocate, and/or comforter.

This is also the idea in the second passage, 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (Contemporary English Version):

Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! The Father is a merciful God, who always gives us comfort.  He comforts us when we are in trouble, so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble.  We share in the terrible sufferings of Christ, but also in the wonderful comfort he gives. We suffer in the hope that you will be comforted and saved. And because we are comforted, you will also be comforted, as you patiently endure suffering like ours. You never disappoint us. You suffered as much as we did, and we know that you will be comforted as we were.

The key words in this translation from the Greek are comfort (solace, consolation), trouble (tribulations, pressures), afflict/afflictions (sufferings as an enduring inward state), and terrible (to be in excess).

We praise God the Father, for he is the source of all help, and through his mercy we are provided with what we need.  We have pressures in our service to God and in our daily living that threaten our inmost being.  God is our source for help and comfort.

The emotional and physical sufferings Jesus suffered were excessive compared to ours, but were endured in order for him to help those in need. He knows and understands what we experience.  Now, he comes alongside us in our troubles to bring help and comfort.

I think we can learn both from the practice of Jesus and these two passages of scripture that the pressures of job, marriage, parenting, and just plain living can sometimes threaten our being.  We find ourselves drained emotionally and physically.  This is a given: we cannot avoid life pressures

The rest Jesus gives is not a retreat or an avoidance of the pressures of living.  The rest that Jesus gives is endurance (v. 6).  To endure means not to be swerved from a deliberate purpose.

By taking his yoke and learning of him, Jesus is alongside us and gives us strength for the endurance to go on living and helping others.  Just as God comforted Jesus in his troubles, Jesus comforts us in our troubles.  As we have found help and comfort in Christ, we share that solace, that peace with others.

 

 

 

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What is the Rest Jesus Invites Us To?

Our pastor is working with a group of caregivers, to help us recognize caregiver fatigue and how to cope with it in our work.  All caregivers, Christian or not, often experience pressures in their work that exceed their own physical and emotional resources.  To continue working under those pressures with no understanding of what you are experiencing and no coping skills to deal with it can lead to caregiver fatigue.

I have experienced caregiver fatigue, and it led to physical and emotional exhaustion.  I had feelings of guilt and inadequacy.  It was a feeling that everyone was taking a piece out of me until I had nothing left.  It was difficult to make the decisions that my work required me to make. I had feelings of isolation, both from my inner self and from those I needed to care for.  Fortunately, I had a counselor friend who helped me recognize what caregiver fatigue is and know how to cope with it.

The Bible tells us Jesus rested from his work and he invites us to come to him for rest.  So, our pastor has asked us to develop a theology of rest, and gave us two biblical passages to study and pray over.  Then, to develop a theology of rest based upon those two passages.

The first passage is Matthew 11:28-30 (Contemporary English Version):

If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest. Take the yoke I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me. I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest.  This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light.

 The second passage is 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (Contemporary English Version):

Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! The Father is a merciful God, who always gives us comfort.  He comforts us when we are in trouble, so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble.  We share in the terrible sufferings of Christ, but also in the wonderful comfort he gives. We suffer in the hope that you will be comforted and saved. And because we are comforted, you will also be comforted, as you patiently endure suffering like ours. You never disappoint us. You suffered as much as we did, and we know that you will be comforted as we were.

 My first problem is to determine what Jesus meant about the rest he invites is to, and second, how his words relate to the words of the apostle Paul.  I have an idea, but that will be my next blog: a theology of rest.

Is Medical Care A Right?

A congressman recently commented that medical care was not a right. That got me to thinking. If rights are conferred only by law, then rights can both be given and taken away. However, are there rights that we have because we are human beings, and that are not subject to law?

Enshrined in our Declaration of Independence are the words, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These are described as “unalienable” rights given to human beings by their creator, and the purpose of government is to secure these rights for the populace.

OK, but does that mean medical care is or is not a right. If it is a right, is it a natural or unalienable right, or a right bestowed by law?

Part of our difficulty is that we are so busy pursuing happiness that we forget that large segments of our population are still looking for life. My city is small, 10,500 people, and there are people here who are homeless, people who are barely getting by on minimum wage, people who cannot afford basic medical care, and people who have to choose between filling a prescription and buying food. The rest of us are pursing happiness with a vengeance (and an overdrawn credit card?).

Humans have many needs that are necessary for our survival as a species. Abraham Maslow came up with a gamut human needs in 1943. The basic need in the gamut is physiological needs. These are followed by needs for safety, needs for love and belonging, need for esteem, and topped by the need of self-actualization. (That last one is our pursuit of happiness.)

Physiological needs are the most important needs and they should be met first. Air, water, and food are metabolic requirements for survival in all animals, including humans. Clothing and shelter provide necessary protection from the elements. We cannot meet these physiological needs without medical care.

We take great pains to protect life. Among many things we have rescue missions, social services, legal aid, free school lunches, and clothing drives to preserve lives. However, on the whole, we do not provide free medical care that can preserve life. There are isolated places where free care is available, but are far and few between. For the ideals of our Declaration of Independence to be realized, government should provide, or see provided, either affordable or free medical care for everyone, or both.

As a Christian, I believe it is immoral to discover a life-saving medicine and then price it beyond the ability of people to pay. I believe it is immoral to provide life-saving medical procedures that only the wealthy can afford. I believe it is immoral to put profit before people. I believe it is immoral for politicians to pay allegiance to any political philosophy that denies the human needs of those they purport to represent. I do not believe free enterprise and market forces can provide affordable medical care, because medicine is both a monopoly and a cartel. There is no free market in medicine, and really cannot be.

I believe medical care is a right as defined in the Declaration of Independence. Where is the prophetic voice of the church defending those who need care? Why are our pulpits silent? Why are we not demanding that all should have access to affordable medical coverage? When will we have the moral and political will to provide this medical care for “the least of these?”

Are We Really What We Think?

In Mark 7, Jesus is confronted by religious leaders who asked:“Why is it that your disciples do not follow the teaching handed down by our ancestors, but instead eat with ritually unclean hands?” (Mark 7:5). This requirement is not in the original law given by Moses. While quite detailed, Jewish law leaves room for interpretation in many situations.  Out of a desire to obey God, the Pharisees, established rules to clarify the law in those situations.  Over time, these rules became known as The Tradition of the Ancestors, and were thought to be equal to the law and scriptures. A person would be ritually unclean if they disobeyed any one of these teachings.

Jesus uses this opportunity to show what really makes a person unclean. It was not because a person failed to scour pots and pans before cooking or wash hands before eating that they became unclean. “There is nothing that goes into you from the outside which can make you ritually unclean,” said Jesus. “Rather, it is what comes out of you that makes you unclean” (vv. 15-16). The disciples did not understand, so Jesus clarified what he meant: “Nothing that goes into you from the outside can really make you unclean, because it does not go into your heart but into your stomach and then goes on out of the body” (vv. 8b-9a).

In Jewish thinking of the day, the heart was thought to be the center of the human soul or mind. The heart was where thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, and endeavors originated. This is the idea behind Proverbs 23:7, where it tells us: As a man thinks within himself, so is he. If what we think makes us who we are, we need to examine very carefully what and how we think.

This biblical concept is what many cognitive psychologists would say today. I like to describe this as Mind-Talk, your inner conversation as you think. Mind-Talk is what you tell yourself about the people and events in your life. It’s how you interpret what happens to you and around you. Sometimes these thoughts are clear statements in your mind; sometimes they are fleeting images or impressions. Some of us have even been known to talk out loud to ourselves. Whichever kind of thinking process you have, you’re not alone. Everyone talks to themselves inwardly.

It is important that we take a close look at our Mind-Talk, because it shapes our attitudes, our feelings, and our beliefs. Why do we feel like this or feel like that? It is because we get our feelings by the process of Mind-Talk. We interpret what is happening around us and draw conclusions based on our interpretation, and those conclusions produce feelings or emotions. (I am not distinguishing between emotions and feelings here, though there are valid reasons for doing so.)

Most people believe that outside events, other people, or circumstances cause and shape the way we feel, our behavior, and our responses. But that’s not true! Our thoughts – our conclusions – are the source! When I first discovered this, I didn’t like it one bit. “Wait a minute,” my defense mechanisms wailed, “if this is true, I can’t blame anyone else for how I feel, what I say or even what I do! I am responsible!” You might not like this any better than I did, but hang with me. It gets worse . . . and then a whole lot better.

Here are some truths we don’t act like we believe. There is a very good reason we don’t want to believe these truths: they force us to face our personal responsibility. These truths are:

• Most of our emotions (our feelings) – anger, hurt, depression, guilt, worry, happiness, well-being, contentment, etc. – are homegrown in our Mind-Talk.

• Whether the emotions we are feeling are good or bad, they start in our minds, and they grow in our minds. Our problems multiply when we act out these feelings in socially unacceptable ways.

• The way we behave toward others is shaped by our own Mind-Talk and not by the behavior of others. We make assumptions and judgments about what’s going on and why, and then act on them. We cannot blame other people for the way we act toward them. (Yikes, this one is really painful, isn’t it?)

• What we say and how we say it (our words and attitudes) are motivated and driven by our Mind-Talk.

Think about this for a moment. Our feelings, our behavior, our attitudes, and even the way we talk with others (that just about sums us up, doesn’t it?) all come from our Mind-Talk. WOW! No wonder the Bible speaks about it so often. I can paraphrase Proverbs 23:7 like this: “As I think within myself, so am I.”

Here are some things to think about:

• God does not control your mind; you are free to think and feel as you choose.

• How do you think about God? Your world? Yourself? What kinds of feelings do these thoughts produce?

• How do you need to change your thinking about God, about your world, and about yourself, so you can see everything differently and can change your behavior?

• You can change the way you think by choosing what you think about.

• You can change the way you think by asking God to help you think in new and positive ways.

• Remember these words of the Apostle Paul:

Your hearts and minds must be made completely new, . . (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Your Feelings and My Feelings

We all have feelings and our feelings are important.  The tell us what is going on inside and can indicate well-being or a warning. Feelings are important for understanding our relationships.  Feelings motivate us to react to our surroundings.

Sometimes our feelings are difficult for us.  We can be trapped by painful feelings.  They can keep us from doing what we need to do.  Our feelings can affect our health.

From earliest childhood both parents and society endeavor to teach us how to express feelings in a responsible way.  Most of us, at times, express our feelings in an irresponsible way and this damages both us and others.  Consequentially, many people bottle up their feelings and it can be dangerous for anyone to internalize their feelings rather than express them irresponsibly.  However, we can learn responsible ways of expressing how we feel.

Expressing our feelings in the right way can be healing and peace as Psalm 32:3-5 tells us:

When I did not confess my sins, I was worn out from crying all day long. . . . Then I confessed my                   sins to you; I did not conceal my wrongdoings. I decided to confess them to you, and you forgave all my sins.

We are responsible for what we do with feelings.  They are not right or wrong; they are neutral.  Feelings are not under our conscious control.  However, we can choose what we do with our feelings: deny them, bury them, feed them, or control them.  Being in control of your feelings, instead of them con trolling us, if difficult, but it is satisfying and worthwhile.

Feelings do and can change, and we can choose to change our feelings toward others and toward ourselves.  To do this takes much discipline and willpower.  Trying to change feelings can make us aware of how much we need God’s help.  So, follow the example of our psalmist and take our concerns to God in prayer and ask for his constant presence and support:  Why am I so sad? Why am I so troubled? I will put my hope in God, and once again I will praise him, my savior and my God [Psalm 42:5]

If you are struggling with feelings you cannot control and you find it difficult to pray, try this prayer as a starting point.  Make the prayer your own by telling God what is dark in you, what is broken, what you are sick of.

Dear God,

Enlighten what’s dark in me;

Strengthen what’s weak in me;

Mend what’s broken in me;

Bind what’s wounded in me;

Heal what’s sick in me;

And lastly,

Revive whatever peace and love has

Died in me.

Amen.

 

 

Healing or Cure?

Several years ago, one of our senior adults who had terminal cancer and only a few weeks to live, gave me a call.  She had a strong faith relationship with God through Christ and was ready for death.  So, the reason for her call surprised me.

She said she had been reading the Book of James, the section that tells us  to call for the elders of the church for anointing and prayer when we are sick.  She wanted to know if I would come and anoint her.  I was concerned about the reason for her request.  Was she expecting a miraculous cure?  No.  She felt she needed healing and not a cure.  She knew to ask for a cure would  be inappropriate under the circumstances and didn’t want a cure for her cancer.  She had lived alone as a widow for many years and needed affirmation from her spiritual community as she was waiting for death to come for her.

I replied that I would talk with the senior pastor and church staff.  Since elders, and not elder, is prescribed in James, I thought the ministerial staff would be the best representation of our spiritual community.

Not one of the Baptist ministers on our church staff had ever seen or thought about an anointing, so I was the designated anointer.  My ten years of rubbing shoulders with Anglicans was going to come in handy!  Taking a small bottle of olive oil with me, I had each member of staff lay hands on the woman while I used my thumb to make the sign of the cross on her forehead with the oil.  I prayed for God to give her the healing she needed and He wanted her to have.  I asked God to receive her unto Himself, both in life and in death, and that she would die in calmness and peace.  After a few moments of sharing God’s goodness, we left.

The woman called the next day to say how much the ritual had meant to her.  She felt at peace.  She felt surrounded and supported by her spiritual community and was ready to move on to her heavenly home.  A week or so later, she crossed the river into eternity.

Why do we avoid having healing services and anointing?  Are we confusing cure with healing? Sometimes we need healing more than we need a cure.  I think we fail to provide healing because we think of sensational cures that have been featured in the media. We hear talk of “divine healing” in terms of miracles or “signs and wonders,” so we pull back from any attempt at healing to avoid sensationalism.

We should not avoid healing in the church. All healing is divine healing; all cure is divine cure.  The laws of healing and cure are built into the universe by a loving Creator.  God has gifted individuals with the intelligence and gift of discovering and utilizing those laws.  Every time we take a tablet or get a shot, we are receiving divine healing.  Sometimes there is what appears to be a miraculous cure, but to God it is not a miracle.  God does not suspend natural laws in order to perform a miracle. That would throw the universe into chaos.  As Author of the laws that govern existence, God can heal at a higher level of natural law than we have been able to discover and utilize.

The distinction between cure and healing must always be in mind. A person could be cured miraculously, but still need healing.  We sometimes need the healing of memories, or the healing of relationships, or the healing that comes from confession and restitution.  Especially when people are facing death, spiritual leaders need to offer the spiritual healing that comes through Christ, the Great Physician.

It was both a joy and a blessing to help our sister in Christ receive healing.  Amen.

God Does Love You! – 3

In the first two blogs on this topic I had some typos. Sorry about that! I would certainly expect better work out my students. At any rate, I have put this in Word first so I could spell check everything.

In Mark 4:35-41 we have a familiar story. Jesus and His disciples are in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is asleep. Suddenly, a storm blows up and the men are afraid. They cry out to Jesus, “Master, don’t you care that we are about to die?”

Most of the time emphasis has been placed upon the miraculous calming of the sea. I think we need to focus on the fear of the disciples: “Master, don’t you care that we are about to die?”

We all have those times when the storms of life threaten our being. If you have not experienced a storm, just wait; you will! When facing a storm of life we think and feel as if we are going to be overcome by things beyond our control.

Often things just happen and human choice has not been involved. It is at times like these that we cry out with Jesus’ disciples: “Master, don’t you care that we are about to die?” Does God care? Does anyone care when we hurt?

Storms come in life because of our poor choices and we, and sometimes others, suffer as a result of our behavior. Sometimes storms come because other people make poor choices and we suffer because of their behavior. However, for many storms there is no explanation for them. Insurance companies refer to “Acts of God,” but I do not think that is an adequate explanation.

A storm does not mean that God is angry with you, or God is paying you back for something you have said or done. The Bible clearly shows, as we experience ourselves, that good and bad things happen both to believers and unbelievers.

If you are in the midst of a storm, you may feel alone and helpless. You may feel isolated from friends and family. You may feel isolated from God, that he does not really care about the way you are feeling right now.

Sometimes people say, “Where is God in the storm?” Or in that wreck, or explosion, or any horrible event. In our biblical reference, Jesus is in the boat with the disciples in the storm. He is not looking on from some far-off distance. Jesus calms both the disciples and calms the storm.

I believe Jesus is with us in the storms we face. If we let him, he will calm those storms and calm us. The disciples reacted with fear, for they knew they were in the presence of holiness. We sometimes have the same feeling, that God is too great for us, that we do not deserve his presence; so we want to flee.

The Scriptures give us the assurance of God’s love and care for us. In Genesis, God pronounced creation was “Good.” That includes you and me. We bear the image of God and it is that image that enables us to have a relationship with God.

In his first epistle, the Apostle Peter wrote: “Leave all your worries with him (God), for he cares for you” (5:7). The psalmist wrote:

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)

My prayer for you: may you come to know the Christ who can calm your storms and give you peace.