Take My To Do List Upon You

To do listAt the end of Matthew 11 Jesus has been working so hard it is almost unbelievable. Teaching, healing and listening to people all day. Staying up many times all night in prayer. Often he didn’t even stop to eat. After months of this and hundreds of astonishing miracles he finds that the vast majority simply don’t believe his message.

You might think that Jesus would be discouraged. Is he about to break under the stress and obvious failure of all his hard work? Then at verse 25 he stops,  looks up to heaven and begins to praise God in sheer joy. How is this possible?

Next he gives us one of the most profound teachings in all of the Bible. He does it by using imagery from everyday life: oxen and yokes. The huge problem for us is that we no longer have any experience of these things. They remove us from Jesus’ point, exactly the opposite of what they did for his first students.

The ox and yoke were both symbols of work. This is because most people’s everyday work involved oxen and yokes. A yoke is just the thing you put on the ox’s shoulders so it can pull a plow or a cart.

What image represents everyday work for us now? My answer is: a To Do List. This is the symbol of the burdens and tasks we have before us each day. Almost everyone uses one at least some of the time.

So, here is a modern reworking of what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples all those years ago. When almost anyone would have been broken from overwork and apparent failure, Jesus stood up and worshiped, spontaneously full of joy. Then he said,

My Father has given me everything! He truly knows me and I know him. In fact, it is obvious I am the only one who actually knows Him. But my one desire is to teach you what He is like so you can know Him too.

Come to me all of you who are worn out with too much to do. I will set you at rest. Take my To Do List upon you. We will do it together and you will learn to work like me. I am gentle and humble in my heart and you will find rest down to the depths of your soul. Because my work is easy and my list is so light. “

Can this really be true? I am stunned by his words just reading them again. But yes. It is true.

Jesus has a list of stuff to do?  Yes.

How can adding His list to my already way-too-busy life possibly result in me finding rest?!

Because He will be right there next to you doing it all with you! Imagine going through a to do list with Jesus, literally working on the same things together, having Him show you how it is done. What could you accomplish if His kind of power were available?

This is what he is saying. This is the secret of His life. He didn’t go around doing hard stuff he hated because he knew he was supposed to. No. He actually knew God. He joined into the work God was doing and because of their deep working relationship together he was given everything, All Power. The most difficult work imaginable was then joy and rest to him.

His great desire is to teach you and me this secret, to train us to work with Him and share His power, joy and rest.

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Church Experiments: The Awakening Part 2

alarm clock…this is part two in a series.  Click here for part 1.

Staff Awakening

December, 2008. There were seven adults and six children involved.  All seven committed to the practices in Part 1 and the kids participated in limited ways.  Each person also gave up something they enjoy for the entire 29 days.

During this time we became like a family. Particularly important were the daily phone calls and the shared meals. Conflicts arose after a couple of weeks between people who had never been in conflict before. This was good. In every case it led to deeper relationship. Almost every member of the group commented on personal problems they usually had that were not present during the Awakening. The experience was a mountaintop and spiritual high point.

At the end most of the group was excited to continue in some way. We decided to have meals together once a month and to call each other occasionally. We all agreed to this, but it never happened. Our relationships went back from being like family to friends and co-workers. Once the required discipline and commitment was taken away, all the shared practices and the community that was formed by them evaporated.

Youth Awakening

February, 2009. Seven youth and five leaders committed to do the awakening.

As with the staff the experience created a sense of unity, purpose and seeking after God together. It took longer for this to happen, but by the third week and especially after the retreat everyone in the group felt a real sense of belonging.

This Awakening was much more work for the leaders than the first had been. By the end almost everyone was excited and positive about the experience, including parents. However, before it began there was resistance both from parents and youth over the idea. This was overcome through prayer, listening and explanation.

During the awakening there were amazing changes in many of the youth. Some who had discipline problems and trouble paying attention became helpful and engaged. Some who were shy became excited and involved. Some who prayed only when I made them began to pray on their own. Some read more Bible than required. The three who were baptized were very excited.

Overall, it was a difficult but hugely rewarding experience. I felt as if I had entered the battle instead of sitting on the sidelines. The fight was hard, but things happened. The changes that occurred in this one month were greater than the changes I had seen in three years prior.

Final Thoughts

Our hope was that the Awakening would create a core membership of the youth group that would be united, seek God together and that this core would then draw in others. Over time it succeeded. This group became the core around which a whole new youth group was formed. The new group is larger and much more focused on Christ. Amazingly, Jesus’ strategy of starting with a deep, committed core of people actually works.

However, the Awakening did not work for everyone. Some people who were very committed during the experience could not maintain their commitment to Christ without that community and slowly drifted away.

Book Review: Company of the Committed – Elton Trueblood

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This is an amazing book published in 1961 that predicted what has happen to the church. Trueblood calls for things that many Christians and churches today are just waking up to.

Summary:  The Church is a company of soldiers, metaphorically speaking, who live with Jesus and go forward on his mission in the world. The Church is loving communities established not for themselves, but in order to help and bless everyone else.

Good Stuff:  

Preaching may not in some instances be helpful to those who listen, but it is almost always helpful to those who speak.

“I just let my life speak.”  What one of among us is so good that he can let his life speak and leave it at that?

Sometimes the best witness if that of the church as a whole.

The vital idea is that the pastor is the helper of the ordinary lay members in the performance of their daily ministry in the midst of secular life.

The concept of a churchgoer is inept. Christians may indeed come in but they do so only that they may go out.

In many churches the entire church operation points to a climax on Sunday morning.

The church building [should be like] a drill hall for the Christian task force

Great discipline in regard to style as well as content must be learned if we really seek to reach contemporary minds.

We ask what Presbyterians believe but we seldom ask how Presbyterians love.

In all periods of great vitality the church has been deeply concerned for the welfare of those who are not adherents at all.

If God, as we believe, is truly revealed in the life of Christ the most important thing to Him is the creation of centers of loving fellowship which in turn infect the world.

Complaints:  ??  None really. I love this book.

Also, this book is available for FREE online!

Short Summary of why Christians shouldn’t hate the word “Environment”

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Environmental issues have been at the forefront of cultural change in North America for a long time and will continue to be in the foreseeable future.  Evangelical churches have missed a great opportunity to be part of this change and help direct its course.  This failure has been a significant driver in the decline of organized religion over the past 50 years.

While environmental issues are not the primary focus of Scripture they are present in Scripture and occupy a place of prominence they do not have in evangelical churches today.

In the Old Testament it is clear that Israel was a leader in taking care of the earth, not a reluctant follower.  The foundational stories of the Old Testament indicate that the entire creation was good, that human beings were to take care of the creation as their primary work and that problems with the creation are the result of human sin. The jubilee regulations in Leviticus require radical practices of Israel designed to refresh the whole created order, human, animal and earth.  On the basis of these and other passages in Scripture the church should have always been working against environmental exploitation as part of its mandate.

However, when the Church failed to lead in this way the cause of environmental care was taken up by groups without a Biblical foundation and whose ethos is secular or even pagan in some cases. Environmental concern became associated with anti-Christian sentiment and so has been opposed or ignored by most Evangelicals.  There exists now in the culture of our churches a prejudice against and resistance to most things environmental.

While there are some Evangelicals engaged in caring for creation, there is a great need today for the majority to turn in this direction. Not only is it important that we take care of what God has created, but our prejudice and apathy about environmentalism has created a cultural barrier to the Gospel.  Many younger people raised outside the church write it off as irrelevant because of its failure to lead in this area.  Many young people raised in the church are embarrassed by the anti-environmental prejudice of their parents and grandparents.

The leadership challenge today is how to move the body of Christ toward Biblical stewardship of creation.  We must avoid simply following the lead of secular environmentalists and must speak revealed truth into the debate. We must move fast enough that change is perceptible to the younger generations and at the same time avoid radical moves that would alienate older Evangelicals and cause disunity.