BURDENS (Galatians 6:2-5 – Part 1)

Carry each other’s burden; that’s the way to fulfill the Messiah’s law. [Galatians 6:2 (NTE)]

dog sleddingSince we tend to think of burdens as demanding and often unwelcome duties or responsibilities, we’re certainly not anxious to take on a burden, especially one that actually belongs to someone else! Yet, that is exactly what we’re told we must do if we are going to fulfill Christ’s mandate. And what is that command? To love one another in the way God loves us.

Nevertheless, the concept of carrying someone’s burden makes me think of beasts of burden like mules, donkeys, or oxen. I find it hard to associate the joy of Christianity with an image of myself as a pack animal lugging a heavy load for miles on rough terrain or an ox being poked with an ox goad while plowing a rocky field. Then again, recalling the Alaskan huskies kenneled just west of our favorite Colorado mountain town, I realize I might be thinking of the wrong beasts of burden.

For thousands of years, dogs like them have pulled people and goods long distances. Experienced mushers say that sled dogs are born loving to pull and it certainly seemed that way whenever we went dog sledding. When we arrived at their kennel, the dogs were quietly resting by their shelters or enjoying attention from their future passengers. Once the sleds and harnesses were taken from the storage shed, it was another story. The noise was nearly deafening as the dogs pulled at their chains and barked excitedly as if calling, “Take me!” While the teams were being harnessed and hooked up, the sleds had to be chained to posts to keep the eager dogs from pulling them out on the trail prematurely.

Mushers say teaching one of these dogs to pull is unnecessary—just put on a harness, hook him up, and the dog will do the rest! We barely needed to say “mush” to get them moving and it’s almost impossible to hold them back once they get started. For sled dogs, carrying a burden is joy rather than a chore; carrying one another’s burdens should be that way for a Christian, as well.

A non-believer tends to react to other people’s burdens the way a poodle would to the sight of a heavily loaded sled. Unlike a husky, it probably would whine about the cold and snow and resist being harnessed. If you managed to harness up a poodle, it probably would lie down and refuse to move and, if you ever got a team of them harnessed and moving, they’d certainly find no joy in running across the frozen tundra pulling a sled. Poodles probably can’t understand why huskies enjoy mushing but the love of sledding isn’t in their breeding. Non-believers can’t understand a Christian’s willingness to carry another person’s burden either but that’s because they’re not reborn in Christ. Rather than a genetic predisposition, it’s the Holy Spirit who enables us to love others enough to willingly and joyfully carry their burdens.

When thinking of those dogs so eager to pull us through the mountains, I realize that even substantial burdens can be borne without great difficulty, especially when it’s a team effort. Indeed, the burdens of our brothers and sisters are meant to be shared and, when shared, they cease to be a heavy load for anyone. For the Christian, carrying one another’s burdens isn’t a chore; it’s a privilege and a joy. One musher described his team this way, “They just live their life the way they love to live it…a life that they can be proud of.” Shouldn’t the same be said of us?

Whoever is spared personal pain must feel himself called to help in diminishing the pain of others. We must all carry our share of the misery which lies upon the world. [Albert Schweitzer]

I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another! Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how everybody will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other. [John 13:34-35 (NTE)]

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INVESTING TALENTS – Matthew 15:14-30 (Part 2)

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. [1 Peter 4:10-11 (NLT)]

great egretYesterday, I wrote about Jesus’ Parable of the Three Servants, often called the Parable of the Talents. Although I used it as an example of excuse making, that’s not what the parable is about. This parable comes right after Jesus’ description of the end times and the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids in which He urged readiness for the Day of the Lord. Immediately following this parable about the talents, Jesus spoke about the final judgment. The story of these three servants makes it clear that, when that last day comes, the master will settle accounts: faith will be rewarded and the righteous servants separated from the false ones.

In this parable, before going away on a trip, the master entrusts his money to his three servants according to their individual abilities; no one receives more or less than he is capable of handling. When the master (Jesus) returns, his servants (Christ-followers) give an accounting for how they fulfilled their responsibilities and used the talents. While we think of talents as natural abilities or skills, in Jesus’ time, a talent was a unit of measurement used to weigh out gold or silver. A talent was the largest quantity at the time and a talent of silver was about the equivalent of an average worker’s income for twenty years. The master in this parable entrusted each of his servants with a fortune. Rather than bags of silver, however, the talents entrusted to us by God include our wealth along with our time, natural abilities (talents), spiritual gifts, and bodies. This treasure entrusted to us is no more ours to keep than were the bags of silver given to the servants theirs. The treasure belongs to the master; his servants are but caretakers of His gifts.

Instead of entrusting us with His investment portfolio, Jesus entrusts us with His ministry and the furthering of His Kingdom. Scripture tells us exactly what He expects us to do with the treasure He’s given us: spread the gospel, love God, love others (including our enemies), forgive those who have wronged us, be hospitable to outsiders, and be an example for the world by feeding the hungry and caring for the poor, imprisoned, and sick. How we achieve His purpose will be different for each one of us because a different sack of talents has been entrusted to each one of us. Whether the sack is filled with gold, silver, copper or iron, we each have been given exactly the right amount of what God expects to use. In writing about this parable, D.L. Moody said, “Many thousands of watch springs can be made out of a pound of iron. See that you improve faithfully the talent God has given you.”

When the master commends the first two servants for the return on his investment, he doesn’t say, “Well done, my good and successful servant.” He says, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” The third servant, however, is punished but not because he failed to give the master a good return on his money; he’s punished because he didn’t even try. Rather than invest the money or put in a bank and get interest, he simply buried it. He isn’t punished for being unsuccessful; he’s punished for his lack of faith! The master didn’t expect him to double the investment as did the other servants, but he did expect him to do something with it! The faithless and lazy servant squandered the opportunity given to him; we must not do the same!

God does not demand that we be successful. He only asks that we be faithful in using the treasure He has entrusted to us. We honor God by using our talents to work to further His Kingdom; the success of our endeavors, however, is up to Him!

We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful. [Mother Teresa]

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. [Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT)]

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DAILY MAINTENANCE – VALENTINE’S DAY

Relish life with the spouse you love each and every day of your precarious life. [Ecclesiastes 9:9 (MSG)]

in the hammock

When getting out a chip n’ dip bowl for some Super Bowl noshing, I noticed the heavy tarnish on the silver candle holders. Because COVID and social distancing have kept us from entertaining, they’ve been ignored in the back of the cupboard for nearly a year. Feeling guilty about letting them get so black, I started polishing off the tarnish. They were a wedding gift to my parents more than 80 years ago and my thoughts turned to marriage as I worked. It’s easy it is to allow our marriages to grow as dull as those candlesticks had. Marriages, like silver, shouldn’t be ignored or neglected.

A pastor friend once remarked that the relationship we have with our spouse is probably the one thing in our lives about which we truly care but which we regularly neglect. We care about our houses, so we paint, repair, renovate, remodel, vacuum, dust, mop, and mow the lawn to maintain them. When we value our health, we take vitamins, get vaccinated, eat healthy food, and exercise. If our children’s education is important to us, we volunteer at school, help with homework, drill them on their spelling, and shuffle them to assorted activities. When we care about our community, we vote, attend meetings, volunteer, or even run for office. If church is important, we tithe, regularly worship, attend Bible study, and serve on committees. Although we usually work at preserving or bettering anything we hold precious, we tend to take the relationship with our spouse for granted.

Marriage is the second most important relationship we have (God, of course, being first) and yet it’s often neglected. Unless we’re experiencing serious marital difficulties, most of us do little to consciously improve it. In fact, we probably spend more time perusing the catalogues and magazines that fill our mailboxes, watching our favorite television programs, or browsing the internet than we do on consciously bettering our marriages. Just because we’re secure in a relationship doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put a little shine on it.

It isn’t that we’re not spending time with one another! Because of this pandemic, couples probably spend more time together than they ever expected. Instead of kissing each other before leaving for work, they just clear off the kitchen counter or move to the dinner table and open their computers. The lines between jobs, home, school, family, entertainment, and leisure have become blurred. Yet, in spite of all the time we’re spending with our loved one (or perhaps because of it), we may have settled into a routine where we’ve stopped noticing one another. We don’t have to ask how their day went or what they did because we already know! Even though we’re together all day in the same house, our lives are more parallel than intersecting.

Sunday is Valentine’s Day—a day we traditionally celebrate romance and love. Even a marriage of more than 50 years needs some tweaking occasionally. Candlelight dinners aren’t just for newlyweds or guests and celebrating pandemic style doesn’t have to be fancy. Like shining silver, it just takes a little effort to shine up a relationship. It can be as simple as grocery store flowers, playing a game together, an unexpected kindness, changing out of the sweat pants, a love note, shaving or putting on make-up, skipping Netflix for a night, taking a walk together while holding hands, having a picnic in the park (or in front of the fireplace), or dancing to slow music (even if it’s in the kitchen and the kids are there). It’s noticing, listening, caring, encouraging, sharing and praying together and often takes less effort than polishing silver. Marriages may be made in heaven but their maintenance work is done here on earth!

Rather than put those now polished candlesticks back into the cupboard, I put them out on the table. They’ve gotten a few dents over the years, just as marriages do, but the dents remind me that marriage is beautiful even when it’s less than perfect. Any tarnish that appears on them will remind me that a good marriage takes effort. While God should be our first priority, our spouse needs to be our second one and not just on Valentine’s Day! Our significant others should be of significance every day; let us be sure to let them know it!

 Remember that children, marriages and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get. [H. Jackson Brown, Jr.]

Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing. [1 Peter 3:8-9 (MSG)]

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THE LAMPLIGHTER

You light a lamp for me. The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness. [Psalm 18:28 (NLT)]

moonflowerWhen Robert Louis Stevenson was just a boy, he was gazing out the window one evening and saw the lamplighter lighting the street lights. The future poet is reported to have said, “Look, Nanny! That man is putting holes in the darkness.” While it makes for a good sermon illustration, a more accurate version of his words is found in an essay he wrote in 1878, “A Plea for Gas Lamps,” in which the man expressed his opposition to the “ugly blinding glare” of the electric lights that were beginning to replace the gas lamps of Edinburgh. After asking God to bless the lamplighter, the poet described him as “speeding up the street and, at measured intervals, knocking another luminous hole into the dusk.” The lamplighter, said Stevenson, “distributed starlight, and, as soon as the need was over, re-collected it.”

The first gas lighting systems in Edinburgh were installed in 1819. At dusk, teams of lamplighters called “Leeries” would stream through the city. Using long poles, they’d ignite the gas in every lamp, whether on street corners, in front of businesses, or on people’s porches. After turning the city from darkness to light at dusk, the men would return in the morning to extinguish the lights. Responsible for trimming wicks along with cleaning and repairing the lamps, theirs was an important job until automation and electricity eventually eliminated the need for them.

A few years after his plea to keep the gas lamps, Stevenson published his poem “The Lamplighter.” In it, the speaker is a boy who says, “My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky; it’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by.” Picture the boy looking out into the dark and, even before he can see the lamplighter, he sees the lamps Leerie illuminates as he approaches. Once past the boy, the lamplighter will have left a trail of lights behind him that will be visible long after he’s disappeared into the dark.

Before gas lamps became common, the streets were dark and dangerous. Pick-pockets and robbers roamed freely and people were afraid to go out at night. Although they could pay a “link boy” to guide them with a torch, there was a real risk the fellow might lead them into an alley to be robbed. When gas lamps were first introduced, The Westminster Review reported that they would do more to eliminate immorality and criminality on the streets than any number of church sermons.

Our pastor frequently closes services with the reminder to be light into darkness. Indeed, we are to be like the lamplighters who illuminated the darkened streets of the 19th century. Turning night into day, we are to put “holes in the darkness” of the world and let God’s light through. As Christians, it’s not enough that we bring the light. Like the Leeries of old, ours is an important job—we must light the lamps of others and help to keep them lit. As we point their way to Jesus, people should be able to trace the course of where we’ve been by the light we’ve left behind us. Like the lamplighters, our actions will speak louder about the light of Christ than any number of church sermons.

Unlike lamplighters who snuffed out the street lights in the morning, we must never extinguish the light of Christ or the flame of God’s love. With the advent of automation and electricity, there was no more need for lamplighters and they disappeared, except for a few whose job has more to do with tourism than bringing light into darkness. Our job as bringers of light, as the people who distribute God’s light by knocking luminous holes into the dusk, will never end. Like the lamplighter of old, let us poke holes into the darkness of the world and leave a trail of light and love wherever we’ve walked.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)]

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. … So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. [Ephesians 5:8-9,15-16 (NLT)]

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TAKE THE WEIGHT OFF! (Hebrews 12:1-2 – Part 2)

What about us, then? We have such a great cloud of witnesses all around us! What we must do is this: we must put aside each heavy weight, and the sin which gets in the way so easily. We must run the race that lies in front of us, and we must run it patiently. We must look ahead, to Jesus. He is the one who carved out the path for faith, and he’s the one who brought it to completion. [Romans 12:1-2 (NTE)]

When Alexander the Great’s army was advancing on Persia, his troops were so weighted down by the spoils of war they’d taken in earlier campaigns that they moved too slowly to be effective in combat. At one critical point, it seemed that defeat was inevitable. As much as the greedy Alexander desired the silver, gold, and other treasures they’d pillaged, he ordered that all the plunder be thrown into a heap, burned, and left behind. Although his troops complained bitterly, they did as directed. Once unencumbered by the excess weight of their treasure, his army saw the wisdom of Alexander’s command when their campaign turned from impending defeat to victory. “It was as if wings had been given to them—they walked lightly again,” said one historian.

While I’m not sure of the truth of this story, it makes an excellent illustration of what the writer of Hebrews means when he tells us to lay aside every weight that slows us down. He didn’t say “some” of the weight; using the word pas, he meant every bit of it—the whole enchilada! Using the word ogkos, which meant a bulk or bulging mass, he was referring to any hindrance, burden or impediment. While there’s a specific mention of sin, other things can weigh as down, as well: disappointment, grief, shame, fear, worry, and material possessions. Not every weight, however, is as obvious. The excess weight in our lives could be seemingly harmless distractions like constantly checking email or social media, surfing the Internet, Netflix, TikTok, YouTube, gaming, shopping, or even crafting.

How do we know what’s hindering us? If it isn’t helping; it’s hindering! For example, Walt Disney was ruthless when it came to cutting anything from a film that interfered with its pace. One animator worked for nearly eight months on a four-and-a-half minute sequence in Disney’s Snow White. In it, the dwarfs made soup for Snow White and nearly destroyed the kitchen in the process. Disney liked the scene but he cut it—not because it was bad but because, rather than adding to the narrative, it slowed it down. If it didn’t help move the story forward, Disney knew it hindered!

As we begin this new year, now is a good time to ask God (and ourselves) what might be hindering our progress. Along with the multitude of “bad” things we need to lay aside in order to make room for all the great things God has in store for us, this also is the time to ask if there might be some “good” things that should be eliminated, as well.

Runners in the ancient Olympics ran naked and, while I’m not advocating stripping down quite that much, they knew what it meant to rid themselves of any extra weight! Let us follow their example and run the race God sets before us as if we’re in it to win it!

It is a most lamentable thing to see how most people spend their time and their energy for trifles, while God is cast aside. He who is all seems to them as nothing, and that which is nothing seems to them as good as all. It is lamentable indeed, knowing that God has set mankind in such a race where heaven or hell is their certain end, that they should sit down and loiter, or run after the childish toys of the world, forgetting the prize they should run for. [Richard Baxter (Puritan theologian)]

Don’t you know that when people run on the race-track everybody runs, but only one person gets the prize? Run in such a way that you’ll win it. Everyone who goes in for athletics exercises self-discipline in everything. They do it to gain a crown that perishes; we do it for an imperishable one. [1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (NTE)]

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POSSIBILITIES

He [Jesus] asked, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many? [John 6:5,7-9 (ESV)]

great egretTwo disciples, Philip and Andrew, are mentioned in John’s account of the day Jesus fed over 5,000 with a boy’s lunch. When Jesus asked Philip where they could find food enough for all of the people, the right answer would have been, “Lord, you have the power to feed them all.” Instead, Philip, who may have been the first century equivalent of an accountant before following Jesus, immediately did a feasibility study and figured the massive expense. Ignoring the solution standing in front of him, he only saw impossibility.

On the other hand, we have Andrew. Perhaps before becoming a disciple, Andrew was the equivalent of a corporate recruiter; Andrew looked for potential and promise. The first thing he did after deciding to follow Jesus was to get his brother Simon and bring him to the Messiah. When faced with a hungry crowd, Andrew simply scanned the countryside to see what assets were available. Even though he knew the boy’s lunch wasn’t enough to feed a multitude, seeing its potential, he offered what little food there was to Jesus.

One disciple saw why something couldn’t be done while the other saw possibility in a meager offering. Philip saw only what was missing but Andrew saw the assets around them. One said there wasn’t enough and the other, even knowing it wasn’t sufficient, offered what little there was and expected Jesus to make it enough.

Nearly three years ago, a handful of people gathered in a park gazebo and started a church. The Philip in us looked at what we had and figured it was impossible—too little money and too few people. Even though we knew it wasn’t enough, the Andrew in us heard Jesus’ call and faithfully presented what we had to Him. In Jesus’ hands, our insufficiency became more than enough. Even though COVID-19 has prevented us from meeting in-person since mid-March, we’re on solid ground financially and able to tithe our funds to those in need. Our on-line services and App have kept our church family connected and enabled us to spread the message to thousands all over the world. Perhaps it was for such as time as this that God took our not enough, multiplied it, and enabled us to feed so many.

When God calls us, we often answer His call by seeing only what we’re lacking—whether time, energy, experience, people, money, or something else. The question, however, isn’t how we’ll respond with so little but what God will do with what we have! God’s math isn’t like man’s. The One who multiplied five barely loaves and two fish to end up with food enough to feed a multitude can multiply potential in amazing ways. As Andrew did with the boy’s meager offering, let us offer what we have and trust God to make it sufficient.

When they laughed at St. Theresa when she wanted to build a great orphanage, and had but three shillings to begin with, she answered, “With three shillings Theresa can do nothing; but with God and her three shillings there is nothing which Theresa cannot do.” Do not let us imagine, then, that we are too poor, or too stupid, or too ignorant, or too obscure to do any real good in the world wherein God has placed us. [Frederic Farrar]

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. [2 Corinthians 9:8 (ESV)]

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