Saturday, December 18, 2010

Time for Casting or Time for Taking?

"I don't know if I can take much more."  

Have you heard that statement recently?  Maybe even coming from your own mouth?  Possibly the holiday planning, the pressure of seeing family or not seeing family, the end-of-the-year workload, exams, studying, commitments, parties, scheduling - it's all too much.

This week, I heard this statement from someone who probably had every right to say it.  A dear friend had passed away, and the circumstances surrounding their death is the epitome of a surreal tragedy.

When things happen, we say phrases like, "I have to deal with this on my own," or "It's something I have to take care of,"  or finally, "I don't know if I can take much more."

I spent a good portion of last night thinking over these statements, and then thinking through the bold claims of Peter and Jesus found two separate passages.  In 1 Peter 5:6-7, Peter writes:

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you."

Peter is writing to a group of people that have been living in constant persecution.  As 21st Century American Christians, I don't think that we can ever fully grasp what it means to suffer persecution at the hands of those around you.  We hear stories of martyrs and the persecuted Church throughout countries like Indonesia, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, etc, etc, etc; but the most that we are persecuted here is from words that sting and bring us to places of anxiety, but never fear for our life.

This is why I think this passage is so very apt for the 21st Century American Christian.  We are an anxious people.  We are born into a family that worries, we are raised to worry, we live our life worrying, and then eventually we pass our worry onto our children.  There are finances, school decisions, silly things called "our love life," pressures at work, and then our family and all of the choices that they have to make.  So we worry.  And when things get extremely tough, like in the situation of friends and family actually passing on, a deep, heavy, feeling comes over us - and we don't know how much more we can take.

Instead of trying to handle all of this worry and pain and hurt on our own, Peter tells us to humble ourselves, and cast all of our worry, anxiety, pain, hurt, grief, etc, on Him.  Because He cares for you.  Don't miss that - it is all BECAUSE HE CARES FOR YOU.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28-30:

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

The scholars tell us that a yoke is typically put upon someone, as in a forced servitude.  So, the Jews were under the forced yoke of the Romans.  A slave would be under the yoke of their master.  Even, in some situations, a woman would be under the forced yoke of her husband.

These were not good yokes.  They were not taken willingly, but were placed forcefully.  Jesus says that we have to actually TAKE HIS YOKE and PUT IT ON OURSELVES.  We have to submit to Him; we have to willingly put on His yoke, because He will not force it upon us.

The amazing difference is that the yokes that were forced upon people were heavy, were filled with anxiety, with pressure, and with fear.  But Jesus' yoke is easy, is light, and is filled with rest for your souls.  What a stark difference between the two!  Jesus has nothing in common with a forceful master.  He is gentile, He is light and easy - and He gives rest.

When we submit ourselves to Jesus, we have to submit even those phrases of: "I have to take care of this myself."  "I don't know how much more I can take."  Because we are under His yoke.  We take upon ourselves, willingly, freely, a light, easy yoke that is provided for us by our Savior who PROMISES nothing but rest and gentleness.  Under this yoke, we are FREE to CAST ALL OF OUR CARES AND ANXIETIES UPON HIM.  Why?  Because He cares for YOU! 

Let's start to think radically for a moment.  What would happen if we took these verses seriously?  How would our language and phrases we use begin to change?  How would our minds and thoughts begin to transform?  What would happen to that curse of worry that has plagued each of our families for generations upon generations?  And then, most of all, when incredibly tough, hard tragedies happen - would we be able to know without a doubt that we are able to not just survive, but thrive in the midst of the tragedy because He is caring for you every month, every week, every day, every minute, every second of your life.  I think that it's time to start taking up our yokes and time to start casting our cares upon Him.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

There Are Much Worse Things

I absolutely love Stephen Colbert.  There I said it.  With his satirical impression of the crazy right-winged religious/political talkies, he manages to always come out somewhere between extremely funny and alarmingly real.  The great thing is when you actually catch glimpses of his intellect and own personal opinions, such as when he took a few jabs at Dr. Bart D. Ehrman - he of the former Christian faith now agnostic fame who refuses to acknowledge the inerrancy of the Scriptures.

On my Christmas playlist, I have most of "Colbert for Christmas" added into the mix, and quite often enjoy listening to the song, "There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In," sung as a duet with Elvis Costello.  At the end of the song, the lyrics are:

"You doubt, but you're sad
I don't, but I'm glad
I guess we're even
At least that's what I believe in
And there are much worse things"

This morning I read an article on my NPR app (yes, I am a hipster nerd) about two billboards that are on either side of the Lincoln Tunnel.  The one on the way into NYC has a picture of the manger scene and directly above it says, "You KNOW it's a MYTH: This Season Celebrate REASON!" - this sponsored by a group called the American Atheists.  At the end of the tunnel, there is another billboard with a manger scene which states, "You Know it's Real: This Season, Celebrate Jesus." - sponsored by the Catholic League.  Enough words have been written about the validity and truth of both boards, the faith/non-faith wars that have erupted between certain leaders, the profit that both have benefited from because of these statements - what I want to discuss is the simple statement, "there are much worse things."

It is no secret that I would fall on the side of Celebrating Jesus billboard, but let me ask the first of many rhetorical questions - What's wrong with a little hope during this CHRISTmas season?  We believe, this fills us with wonder, with joy, with peace and with hope - is there something wrong with this?  The fact that hearing Linus's voice on a Charlie Brown Christmas say, "Lights, please..." lisp and all warms my heart, because I know that the next few minutes will be filled with the story from the Gospel of Luke about the shepherds, the angels and the statement that unto YOU is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  What is wrong with this?  Aren't there, as Mr. Colbert points out, MUCH WORSE THINGS TO BELIEVE IN?

The story of Jesus' birth is an amazing story.  We believe it to be truth, because we believe that the Holy Bible is in fact the very words of God.  Is it so terrible to imagine that God would not only create the very world that we walk around in, the one in which we live and move and have our being, but that He would also come to this earth in the human form?  Is it so terrible and horrifying to believe that God would send His Son to save us?  Is it so horrible to hope in a new heaven and a new earth, because we know in our hearts that this world in which we live in its current state is just not right?

A lot of you can leave the super scholarly arguing about the validity of the Bible for the super scholarly to argue, but I would say that this CHRISTmas you have something very simple and very profound to say as you spread your Christmas Cheer - and that is that there are much worse things to believe in.  Once again, Merry Christmas - may your hearts, minds and souls be filled with all the wonder, amazement, joy, peace and hope of this Season as you Celebrate Jesus!