Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Life: Gift or Burden?

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." --Jesus (Mark 2:27)

Have you ever given someone something with the intention of it being a blessing, but it became a burden to them instead? Or have you ever found a gift that someone gave you to be more trouble than it was worth? Are there things in your life that at one time you saw as something to celebrate, but somewhere along the way that changed?

This can happen with things and with people. Possessions. Jobs. Cars. Houses. Marriages. Friendships. Children. Churches. Ministries. Holidays. The excitement we have over them in the beginning often fades as the reality of long-term endurance and upkeep sets in. Things break down or become outdated. Cars and homes require maintenance, money, and time. So do relationships. Holidays that are intended to be a day-off and a celebration often require so much energy to prepare for, the day doesn't seem worth the trouble. The thrill of receiving a particular call in ministry can be exhilarating and we can't wait to get started, but after a few months or years, we just want out.

When God gives us life, He intends it to be a gift. But for a lot of us, it becomes a burden. The same is true for many of the things in life that He intends for us to enjoy. Even our relationship with Him can become a burden. If you spend any time reading the gospels, you will see that all three of these were true for the Jewish people living at the time of Jesus. They were God's chosen people, set apart to be blessed by God, and they were, but many of them weren't living the blessing. They were burdened by their circumstances, by religious practices, by sin, by greed, and by a misunderstanding of God and His ways. The sacrifices, religious festivals, and the Sabbath were all being practiced, but the meaning had been lost. Things that were intended to be good for them had become a burden.

Jesus came to change that. He came to make God known. He came to restore what had been lost. He came to show a new way to live. He came to change people's thinking. "Repent, the kingdom of heaven is near!" He said this everywhere He went. He wanted them to think differently. He wanted them to see the beauty of God's Kingdom. And it was more than a message, it was reality. God with us. That's who He was. Immanuel.

One day some Pharisees were getting after His disciples for picking some grain to eat because they were hungry as they were walking with Jesus through the fields. It was the Sabbath, and the religious elite considered their actions to be a violation of the Sabbath law to abstain from work, but Jesus disagreed. Why? Because they were hungry. He spoke some profound words. "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." In other words, the Sabbath was meant to be a blessing, not a burden.

Thinking that we must serve religion rather than religious practices serving us leads to a lot of burden and frustration that God never intended. Similarly, people often say things or demand things of others in the Name of God that do not accurately reflect His love and His character. Jesus said that He came to bring us abundant life. Life is meant to be a gift.

Church. Ministry. Marriage. Children. Homes. Jobs. Relationships. Possessions. These are all intended to be a gift, not a burden. These are made for us to enjoy. To provide for our needs. To be a blessing. Try to keep that in mind the next time you feel frustrated by things or people in your life. And maybe some of those things or people shouldn't be there. Maybe some changes are needed. If you think that may be the case, spend some serious time in prayer and take whatever steps you feel Jesus leading you to take concerning them. But for the things you can't get rid of or shouldn't walk away from, learn to see them differently. To see their value and benefit. To believe God has a purpose. To love even when it's hard. To put the effort into them you know they are worth. To have hope, not despair.

A popular December saying is "Keep Christ in Christmas." I'd like to expand that same idea and encourage you to "Keep Christ in Life." His love. His joy. His peace. It's not just for Christmastime, it's for the other 364 days of the year too. Life is a gift.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." --Jesus (John 10:10)