ARE YOU YOKED?

 

Although Jesus is not here physically right now to teach us, we are not left to wonder what He said while on this planet.  We have His words recorded in Scripture.  One of His commands is found in Matthew 11:29: 

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.””

Matthew 11:29-30 ESV

We in the modernized world are not necessarily familiar with a yoke or being yoked together.  The yoke was the symbol of hard work. Yokes were used to control working animals, and sometimes they were put on the necks of slaves or prisoners.  A yoke could be made for one animal pulling a plow or threshing board alone, but it was often made to link two animals together as they worked.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a yoke as a crossbar with two U-shaped pieces that encircle the necks of a pair of oxen, mules, or other draft animals working in a team.

yoke

 

You will recall that, prior to His ministry, Jesus was raised with, and presumably worked alongside, His step-father Joseph who, being a good Jewish parent, would have been responsible for teaching his son a trade.  While Scripture does not say that Joseph was a carpenter, we can presume that this was what Joseph did since Scripture says that Jesus did this type work. See Mark 6:3 [ESV] where we read:

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? 

Furthermore, it does not stretch the imagination to think that Joseph, and likewise Jesus, made yokes to be used on the animals in the area.  They would most certainly have been familiar with the needs of the farmers and would have taken care to make the yoke strong while at the same time making it smooth so that it would not hurt or injure the animal that was going to be lashed to it.     

When the farmer wanted to train a young ox to pull a plow, he did not put the young animal in a single yoke attached to the plow.  The animal would not know where to go and it would not understand the direction of the farmer.  Nor would he put two untrained animals in the same yoke – they likely would be unmanageable and the field might be ruined. 

Rather, the farmer would yoke the young ox together with an old, experienced ox. The older ox would have had long experience serving the farmer and he would know the voice of his master, obeying the directives being given.  The young ox could feel the authority of the older animal through the yoke that bound them together, and the young ox could, thereby, also learn to obey the commands of the master.

Because He knows His children, He has made the yoke to be the exact size and strength that will be needed for each of us; no man’s yoke is too hurtful or punishing.  And, Jesus is further saying that He is yoked together with us.  He is able to teach us through the yoke.  We cannot go anywhere without Him.  He guides us because we are together with Him.  He prevents us from going astray by nudging us back into the right way.  And, He is ready to keep us from falling because He is yoked to us and His strength will carry us when we cannot do so on our own. 

The believer is working in tandem with Christ in service to our Father, and this is something that only happens in a life of faith.  Being yoked with Christ means being a disciple of Christ and having the mind of obedience that He had. 

The obedient life does not equate to lying on a bed of roses.  No “prosperity gospel” here! Rather, the life to which you are called as a disciple yoked to Jesus may mean missions in a far country; it may mean reaching out to the neighbor beside you.  It may require you to take steps of mercy toward someone who has hurt you in the past, or it may mean an illness, loneliness or some other hard situation to endure. 

When your yoke is difficult, remember Jesus endured humiliation, torture and death on the cross.  He experienced unimaginable horrors not because He deserved them but because we deserved them.  He felt the pain of sin and rejection by God because that is what we would have experienced if it were not for His sacrifice.  But that is not the end of the story, praise the Lord!

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. … But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

1 Corinthians 15:20, 23 ESV

Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and lives, today, in Heaven where He sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  Because He lives, we too shall live.  He is the Victor over death and hell.  He has endured so that He could save His people.  This is the One who is yoked with you.  He is able to do all that we need to bring us to God as His children

We often try to serve God in our own strength by doing things our way. On our own we don’t know how to do God’s work.  Rather, we need to learn God’s ways somehow and we can do so by being yoked together with His Son, Jesus Christ.  He will teach us what it means to obey our Master through the direction that the yoke can give to us.  

When we obey Him, the yoke will be easy and the load light.  Then, our soul will be able to rest even while we work for God.

Father, when I try to run off on my own to do what I think is “your work”, please let me feel the pull of the yoke of Jesus Christ to bring me back to Your will.  Enable me to serve You in the power of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit and in accordance with Your direction and Your will.

CALLED TO BE ATHLETES FOR MORE THAN THE OLYMPICS!

We watched the Summer Olympics that were played in Rio last month.  The training and physical prowess of these men and women is awesome and is evident when you watch them compete.  There are many factors that go into being a successful athlete, including genetics, training, physical strength, endurance, etc.  But, there is also the element of determination and sheer grit.

 

This was apparent in one of the races when the female athlete was coming in, literally, neck and neck with a competitor, and she lunged forward, propelling herself over the finish line to take the win by a millisecond.  She was willing to do whatever it took to win, even if it meant splaying her body over the track after her lunge to victory.

 

In I Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul talks about his witness for Christ and his willingness to do whatever it took to witness to an unbeliever about the Lord:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 

 

The runner certainly did “all” for the sake of winning when she intentionally became airborne in her (successful) attempt to win the race!  This is the same attitude we should have as Christians when we think about witnessing to others, even if it is difficult in our culture.

 

Since Paul wrote this in the letter to the Corinthians, let’s consider Corinth for a moment and see the culture that Paul was talking about in this letter.

 

The ancient city of Corinth lay on an isthmus between the Greek mainland and the Peloponnese.  This is a close up map of Ancient Corinth as it would have been when Paul visited the city.

ancient-corinth
Map of ancient Corinth at the time of Paul’s missionary journey.

Note in the map on the lower left side is the name Acrocorinth.  This spot was known in ancient times as High Corinth and is the acropolis of Corinth. An acropolis is a settlement, especial a citadel, that is built on an area of elevated ground, usually a hill with steep precipitous sides, a location chosen for purpose of defense of the settlement.

 

This is a picture of what it looks like today.

ancient-acrocorinth
Acrocorinth and ancient ruins.

 

The isthmus at which Corinth is situated is about 6,000 yards at its narrowest point.    Ships often sailed to Corinth and transported their goods overland across the isthmus by portage road rather than risk the wild currents and weather around the Peloponnese.  This brought trade to the city along with all things associated with bustling commercial centers.  The stones on the road used to transport the boats are still seen today alongside the ditch where the canal was ultimately built.

 

Corinth had a mixed cosmopolitan populace as is reflected in different religious shrines.  There is archaeological evidence of offerings made to Asclepius, the god of medicine, in gratitude for healing.  These offerings were clay models of body parts, often arms, legs or sexual organs, which the god had supposedly healed.  Corinth also was home to a famous temple to Aphrodite that supposedly employed 1,600 temple prostitutes.  There were also temples to other Greek gods such as Poseidon, god of the sea, and to Demeter, goddess of an ancient Greek fertility cult.  It is not surprising that the ancient city of Corinth became a byword for sexual immorality.

 

Coming back to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, there clearly was a need to become all things to all people in the cultural hodge-podge that he faced in Corinth.  But, in today’s parlance, “But wait!  There’s more!”  He also compares the Christian life to that of an athlete in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

 

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

 

Paul’s description of his Christian life as an athlete in training is likely premised on his witnessing the Isthmian games while he stayed in Corinth.  An analogy using athletes and training would be understood by the people in Corinth because of the games that the city hosted.

 

The Isthmian games were second only to the Olympic games in prestige.  These games were conducted biennially, in the spring of the first and third year of every Olympiad.  The games were dedicated to Poseidon.  There was a cult place for Poseidon on the Corinthian Isthmus from the 11th Century B.C.  His temple was built in the early 7th Century B.C. and the games began in 582 B.C.

 

The Isthmian Games were in three parts – horse races being the most important because Poseidon was the patron of this sport.  There were also athletic contests and, from the 5th Century on, there were musical contests.

 

isthmian-games-starting-gate
Isthmian Games starting gate for running races.

Discoveries at Isthmia include starting gates for the races.  The runners stood behind the poles which had arms that were at right angles to the pole.  The arm looked somewhat like our railroad crossing arm that goes across the traffic lane.  These arms were held up, extended, by ropes that ran from the arm to the hole you see in the picture foreground.  A game official would stand in the hole, holding the ropes tight, until it was time for the runners to go – then he would let go of the tension on the ropes, the arms would fall, and the runners would get going down the track.

 

The victor’s crown at the Isthmian Games was made of wilted celery.  This makes Paul’s reference to a “corruptible crown” come to life.  1 Corinthians 9:25.

 

We are followers of Jesus Christ … we are not called to a life of ease, contrary to what the Prosperity Gospel proponents assert.  The torture and horrors inflicted on the first century Christians and throughout the ages, even on Christians in many countries of our world today, undermine the concept of a life of ease for disciples of Jesus Christ.  Christ’s own life with its rejection, ridicule, mob-ruled trial, torture and crucifixion does not reflect a life of ease.  Indeed, He promised that His followers would be persecuted. See John 15:20:

 

Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.

 

But, we need to look at the goal when we struggle with some of the demands that the Christian life makes on us.  Our goal is not wilted celery leaves – our goal is eternal life with God as secured through the sacrificial life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, through the securing and guiding of the Holy Spirit.  That is, indeed, an imperishable crown!

 

 

Father, thank you for giving us the promise of life with You throughout eternity.  This world is not our home and all the pain and difficulty here is only temporary; it cannot compare to eternity with You and the host of those believers who have gone before us, and who are waiting for our arrival.  Thank you for salvation and may we do our best to spread Your love to all around us, according to Your will and in the power of Your strength.

SCHOOL IS IN!

Drive down neighborhood roads early in the morning and you are well aware that school has begun.  The school zone speed limit signs are blinking and, on many streets, the police cars are waiting to pull speeders over when they disregard the sign and blast past the school while children are present.

The backpacks have been purchased and innumerable school supplies have been obtained to fill them as the children march toward their destiny in their new classrooms.   The younger children are, by and large, excited about the new grade level and the excitement that awaits.  [First day of kindergarten with backpack and smiles – a strong face concealing a bit of trepidation!]

The First Day of Kindergarten.
The First Day of Kindergarten.

The older youths are a bit more jaded and it is not quite as “cool” to be excited about the change as are their younger siblings.

Parents also go through a “school transition” of sorts … just watch a mother standing at the bus stop with her kindergarten child.  As the bus pulls up, the child ascends the steps and, if you look closely, often the mother is daubing her eyes.  Her little chick has left the nest for, possibly, the first time and it is a transition because there is the awesome awareness that a new chapter in the child’s life is about to begin.  [First born getting on the bus for first day at kindergarten, while Mom is holding back the tears of pride and fear all at the same time!]

Boarding The Bus On The First Day Of Kindergarten.
Boarding the bus on the first day of Kindergarten.

There are times that we tend to think that all education is to be handled by the school … or perhaps by the church.  But nothing could be farther from the truth.

The primary teacher for the child is the parent then grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other family members.

While this seems to run counter to our culture, Scripture is clear that teaching the children is the paramount role of the parents.  Solomon, who was known as the wisest man on earth, penned the book of Proverbs as a record of his teaching to his son.  The book begins:

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:  To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth – … The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.  Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.  (Emphasis not found in text of Scripture)

Proverbs 1:1-9.

Long before Solomon wrote the proverbs contained in the Scripture, God directed the Israelites to instruct their children in the commands of God.  In Deuteronomy 6:1-7, the children or Israel were commanded to keep the commandments that the Lord gave to them, and further they were to “teach them diligently to your children…”

In Exodus chapter 13, God instituted the annual feast of unleavened bread to commemorate the people’s leaving Egypt by the mighty hand of God.  At verse 8, the people are instructed to tell the children that the reason for the feast was “because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.”

After the Israelites went through the Jordan on dry land, Joshua took 12 stones, one for each tribe, and set up a pillar.  Then he told the people:

“When your children ask their fathers in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’, then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’”

Joshua 4:21-22.

Clearly, teaching occur during a wide multitude of activities.

Grandfather and grandson flying a kite on a sunny day.
Grandfather and grandson flying a kite on a sunny day.

Time spent with children can teach various skills, but mostly will teach about relationships, enjoying being with each other, and the value of sharing time together in God’s marvelous creation.

The first fish!
The first fish!

Sometimes our “teaching” will result in the discovery of a new hobby that could last a lifetime.  Or, it might confirm the fact that “I don’t want to touch that!”  But no matter what, learning will come through the experience.

Swimming pool fun!
Swimming pool fun!

Sometimes teaching a skill, such as swimming, will result in nothing more than having fun … but that is all too important in a world full of strife, pressure and challenges.  Knowing how to have fun while parents, grandparents or other adults are watching is, in itself, something worth learning.

Most importantly, however, through prayer and attention, we teach them to love the Lord, to live a life that is full in Christ, to pray when facing difficulty or just to commune with the Living God, to learn and develop their own personalities while, at the same time, becoming responsible for their own actions and understanding that God is Sovereign.  This kind of teaching occurs during the act of living.  Just watch the preschooler mimic you.

One example that stands out in my mind was the child we were babysitting for who stood in our porch, holding a Golden Book with the pages facing us, as if she were the teacher reading us the story.  However, she was too young to read; rather, she was saying, and I quote: “Blah, blah, blah, … [slight pause] I don’t wanna hear about it!”  Then she would turn the page, look at it as if reading the words, turn the book around so the new page faced us, and then repeat the same statement with the same cadence, rhythm and sing-song form each time she said it.  It was clear that she had heard this phrase often in her home.  She may not have known what it meant, but she knew how to say it!

Or consider the parent who was shocked when the 3 year old let out an expletive only to hear himself say the same thing when he hit his finger with a hammer.  If we say it, they will, in all probability, say it as well.  The phrase “your actions speak louder than words” is much more than a catchy phrase!

  • If you don’t want them to curse – you should not curse.
  • If church is important to you – you should go with your child to church, not just drop the child off at the door.
  • If prayer is important to you – you should pray in front of and with  your child, not just direct the child to pray at bedtime.
  • If God’s Word (the Holy Bible) is important to you – you should read it in front of, and also along with, your child.

It behooves us to be sure that our actions are consistent with the words that we speak, especially when children are listening or observing what we are doing.

In Proverbs 22:6 we read: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  See also Proverbs 22:15.

Teaching or training our children means much more than just providing a computer or iPad and letting them look around, play games or watch movies.  Teaching our children includes information from school, certainly; but the more important lessons relate to our teaching of Jesus Christ, teaching of God’s sovereignty and majesty, teaching of sin and salvation, teaching of God’s love and mercy combined with His holiness and justice.  And, teaching our children includes teaching that actions have consequences and that discipline is an important part of growth, training and living.

God disciplines each of those He loves and we should discipline our children.  The writer of Hebrews says the following about discipline in chapter 12:6-10:

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.  … Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them.  Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.

I am surely not advocating for child abuse, or even for spanking or other form of physical punishment, necessarily; but I am advocating for loving discipline that trains the child and brings wisdom.  Ephesians 6:4.  Discipline includes development of self-discipline which affects virtually the entire life, including things like diet, alcohol use, actions while partying, sexual purity, fidelity in marriage, money usage and savings, etc.

Leaving the yard vegetation without pruning or guidelines results in weeds growing wild and choking out the good plants and shrubs growing spindly and weak.  Likewise, leaving children to raise themselves results in children who do not know God or follow His commands, who do not understand boundaries, who do not respect authority, who do not have the discipline to live productive lives.

We must not waste our opportunity to teach, discipline, and train our children.  Our time with children is important, and it is limited!

Father, forgive me when I have focused on the mundane and have ignored the weightier matters when speaking with my own children and grandchildren.  Holy Spirit, please guide me as I teach by example and let my words be consistent with my actions.  May the children I come in contact with see Jesus and His love put into action as I interact with them.  Thank you, Holy Spirit, for your guidance and presence.