Yoked to Jesus


“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.”” – Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus tells us the secret to a light burden is to be yoked to him. A yoke? That sounds like a heavy, restrictive, constant burden! In making our own assessment of this transaction, we might conclude the heavier burden is the one Jesus offers. So, do we take our own assessment, or do we take Jesus at his word?

Jesus promises to exchange our heavy burden for a light one as we remain yoked to him. Is Jesus lying or is our own assessment faulty? I can’t tell you how many times I hear people in vocational ministry talk about the heavy burden laid upon them. Where did they get this burden from? Did Jesus lie to us when he offered us to come lay our burdens down at his feet and receive rest?

Obviously the answer cannot be that Jesus lied. It is not in his nature to do so. So what other conclusion can we come to? The only conclusion I can come to is the heavy burden is a result of being unyoked to Jesus.

A yoke is a device placed over two oxen, forcing them to walk in step and share the load drawn behind them. Jesus, in placing his yoke upon us, is asking us to walk in step with him. To explore this process we must ask a question: How do we walk in step with Jesus?

The answer to this is easy. SURRENDER!

I picked up a great acronym years ago for the process: SAY

Surrender your own desires, fears, plans and thoughts

Ask God for his desires, plans, thoughts, and ask your specific questions

Yield to the Holy Spirit. Let him refine and speak. Do what he says in response.

This process of submitting to the Lord is the process of taking on his yoke and unburdening ourselves from the things God hasn’t given us. A great gauge for our being yoked is whether or not we feel the burden we carry is too heavy.

What do I do if I feel like my burden is too heavy?

Find help in troubleshooting with the Lord. I believe God has called us into community. Find someone to lead you through questions to discover where the uncoupling occurred. Acknowledge the promise of rest and an easy burden. Exchange your heavy one and ask the Lord to reveal what has been left unsurrendered. Ask questions of the Lord to help lead you back in step: Where have you strayed or taken on something Jesus hasn’t provided? Have you ignored something he has provided? I have found seeking answers is much easier with a partner than it is on my own. Let yourself be led through asking God questions. Allow their faith to join with yours in the expectation that the promise of rest is true.

The act of submission to the Holy Spirit speaking in community makes surrender to the Lord much easier. It develops humility which is a requirement for submission to God. Also, others can remind you and give you courage to embrace the yoke of Jesus. Listening together can also encourage the person who joined you.

Surrender is something requiring an initial moment of commitment, but also a frequent refresh. Some call it daily surrender. The life of a mature disciple resembles frequent checking in with the Lord throughout the day, asking questions of where Jesus is and what he is doing. This is how we remain in step (yoked). If we are doing something he is not in, we have become unyoked and have taken on a burden he isn’t carrying.

Faith is a requirement in this process, something not always easy to attain. Do we trust in the promise Jesus gives? More than that, are we willing to follow Jesus wherever he leads, no matter the cost?

Was Stephen’s  burden light when he was martyred? The cost was high, but was the burden heavy for him? I have to believe it wasn’t if Jesus was there with him. The account in Acts 7 tells us: “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55)

When we are yoked with Jesus, we will still get tired, sore, feel pain and any number of emotions. But our soul will be at rest. We will not be anxious or fatigued as we stay in step with Jesus.

The fruit of the spirit is evidence of a life yoked. If your life is without one of the fruits of the spirit,  there is something wrong. Fruit becomes more plentiful as we remain yoked to Jesus. But we do not grow or produce it. The Holy Spirit does. If fruit is absent, something within us is blocking the fruit of the Holy Spirit if he dwells within us.

What might be the blockage? It could be our lack of obedience, or a begrudging yes like Jonah finally gives in going to Nineveh. Begrudging obedience is not an obedience connected to God. If there is a lack of joy, there is a lack of fruit. Something is still wrong. There is a disconnect somehow with the Holy Spirit. God is not desiring us to simply follow a set of rules. If he was, begrudging obedience would be fine. God desires us to be renewed and our desires transformed through the renewing of our mind and time spent with him. This doesn’t mean surrender won’t be difficult. There will be a cost in our yes, but once we say yes we can rejoice because we know the value of our yes.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” – Galatians 5:16-24

The fruit of the Spirit is a great gauge for being yoked with Jesus. The burden he gives is accompanied by empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the one he sent to us. It is what we gain as we are yoked to Jesus. It is why our soul can be at rest in the midst of labor. In the midst of opposition the Holy Spirit provides rest.

Are you yoked? Don’t settle for an unyoked attempt at pleasing the Lord. It won’t please him and will leave you empty. Take Jesus up on his invitation.

“Come to me ye who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

The King’s Steward


As a warning, this blog will be far more rewarding with a passable knowledge of the works of J.R.R Tolkien but it should be life-giving regardless. As a follower of Jesus, Tolkien’s work often reflects the teaching of Jesus in dynamic ways, bringing truth to light in remarkable ways. To be honest, I think life itself is more rewarding with a familiarity with the works of Tolkien.

The concept of stewardship has too long been relegated to the area of finances,  falling short of the full calling of being a steward. The idea of stewardship started long before there was currency in the world…  even before sin came into the world.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” – Genesis 1:26

At the moment of our creation, mankind was chosen as steward over all God created on the Earth. It was part of our fabric when he made us. This didn’t mean God was absent or distant in the garden or anytime thereafter. We were simply given the responsibility to rule with his authority.

The fall brought about a separation between man and God but the purpose and call as stewards remained. Everything that was given by God; the creation around us, the gifts we have, our position in life, our privilege, wealth, authority, even the breath in our lungs was given to be stewarded. Humans were created as the King’s stewards on earth.

The earth and everything in it is not ours to possess but to tend to. This is a difficult concept for us to grasp in a world telling us to accumulate wealth, possessions and experience for our own gain. It is very difficult to grasp this concept when we grow up with privilege. There is an entitlement bred into us through circumstances. Unlearning selfishness and pride is a difficult feat. A parent’s role is to model and train their children in the way of a steward, whether they have much or little. Those we consider privileged, however, inherit a more weighty responsibility.

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Luke 12:48

Jesus made this statement during his explanation of a parable (it is worth reading the whole thing) instructing his followers to always live in readiness. In other words, there is never time off from being the Lord’s stewards.

I was rereading The Lord of the Rings a few years ago and was struck by the character Denethor. He is the Steward of Gondor for most of the series. We are introduced to him first through the internal conflict of his sons who resemble aspects of their father’s character and beliefs, but fall short of the presence he carries. It has been many generations since the last king of Gondor left a Steward in charge before dying in battle, leaving a succession of Stewards in his wake.

Denethor is a strong leader, who most consider a good man. The zeal with which he defends against the armies of evil is applaudable, and his tactics have protected all of Middle Earth. But he has lost sight of the position he holds as Steward. He is not the King, but managing with the authority of the King.

“I am Steward of the House of Anárion. I will not step down to be the dotard chamberlain of an upstart. Even were his claim proved to me, still he comes but of the line of Isildur. I will not bow to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity.”

        The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 7, The Pyre of Denethor

I read this, and my heart ached. It didn’t ache just over the story I was reading but in light of the parable of the tenants, seeing how easy it is to claim what is given as our own.

9 And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant[b] to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected

    has become the cornerstone’?[c]

18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

        Luke 20:9-18

This is such a sad commentary depicting the story of Israel rejecting God’s servants sent to call Israel back to their role of stewards and ultimately rejecting him. It is also a glimpse into what happens when anyone called by his name loses sight of what they are called to. It is the same thing that occurred in the depiction of Denethor. Like the religious leaders in Israel, no one could question Denothor’s zeal. But they all forgot whose throne (or land) it was when the messenger came.

We may not be sitting in a seat of power like the examples above but we all have something entrusted to us, even if it is just the breath in our lungs, revelation, or our own hands. We must ask ourselves the question: How am I stewarding what has been entrusted to me? Since it was entrusted to me by God, am I making the decisions he would? Am I treating what was entrusted as though it is for my own fulfillment or my stewardship? Am I equipping those in my charge to live as faithful stewards rather than entitled children?

If you think about it, we all, like Denethor, come from a long line of stewards for we were all created with that intention by the Lord. Over time, Denethor came to the point of forgetting this and claiming ownership over what was entrusted and rejecting the rightful king. Israel did the same thing in rejecting the messengers of God and even God himself.

How will you respond to Jesus’ return to take control? Will you cling to what you currently hold? Or will you give it over?

I was in Winnipeg recently visiting family. My papa has for a long time been the standard for me of what it looks like to be a good steward. I asked him the question of what has marked this season of his life and he said stewardship. It looks different in this season for him, but it is always the lens with which he views his life.

For a long time in his retirement he spent hours a day investing a set amount of his wealth on his own. He was part of a club where they would do it together. He would get great joy in doing this. I understood the reward and rush of the challenge and competition, but it always struck me as strange until I learned on this trip everything he made from it, he gave away. The more money that came in, the more he was able to give away. The source of his joy was in his faithful stewardship of what was entrusted to him. I am so thankful for this rich example. I continue to learn from and be blessed as his Grandchild. From season to season of his life, he has understood and walked out the rich example of being a good and faithful steward.

I wish to take inventory of what has been entrusted to me, including the gifts, possessions, people under my care, and each breath in my day. I want to see myself as a steward of everything found on this list rather than an entitled owner. I want to remember I was created to Steward what God has made and given to me for however long the season may last.

Surrender is paramount in this process. It is what the wicked tenants in the parable failed to do. They knew who the land belonged to and refused to surrender it back. Taking inventory and offering our thoughts and possessions back to the Lord is a practice reminding us we are stewards and not god’s unto ourselves. Not only does this process relinquish control but involves letting go of what was not given to us, but we took for ourselves,  so God can place it in the hands of another.

God knows what is good for us to steward and what should be for another. He knows our capacity far better than we do. To quote yet another Lord of the Rings character in Gollum, we don’t want to find ourselves saying “It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious”. In a western world filled with entitlement and chasing after what we want, we stray further from the peace that comes in stewardship and the joy that follows. It is time to flip the script.

Jesus is Lord


We often think about the Lordship of Christ through a macro lens: the King of the universe, seated on the throne in heaven with earth as his footstool. While this depiction is true, it doesn’t lend itself to an everyday impact. The imagery can cause us to imagine a God who is distant and not Lord over everyday life.

“Jesus is Lord” is a statement of truth in the macro sense, but also one of surrender. It is an oath of allegiance to the rule and reign of Christ. Although his kingdom is not of this world, his rule over us encompasses every realm.

We need to think about Jesus’ lordship not just as reigning above every authority, but in every sphere. His Lordship applies to our homes, families, relationships, occupations etc. Realizing this takes us in a different trajectory than the world. It is easy to slip into the same progressions in life as the world, but the way of Jesus is different. There should be an obvious difference.

The renewing of the mind transforms us from the rule of sin to the rule of Jesus. The world’s motivations pervade all aspects of life. A search for worldly success can be driven by any mix of motivations laid out in Colossians 3. Following any motivation on this list is a clear sign Jesus does not reign over a part of our mind.

“5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave,  free; but Christ is all, and in all.” – Colossians 3:5-11

It is easy to get caught up in pursuing success the same way those around us do. For most of us it is the only way we have known. How could we expect to know differently?

When I was in my last year of my BComm majoring in finance, I was given a clear warning from the Holy Spirit. The path I laid out was to pursue corporate law. My immature drive at the time to compete and win would have fed a lust for power and greed. I was granted foresight into how my life would unintentionally turn from the Lord in a pursuit of worldly success if I made that decision.

Instead, I finished my degree and ran off to California to intern at a wonderful church in Fresno, fleeing from the temptation the other road presented for me. This was a moment of submission to the rule of Christ. A fear of the Lord gripped me in the moment of revelation and there was no way I wanted to choose a path that would lead me away from him.

If Jesus is Lord, the rules and patterns of this world are no longer what we follow. That moment in University showed me the patterns of this world were embedded in me despite my desire to follow Jesus. My decision making process and pursuits could not simply be trusted. My motivations needed to be submitted to another kingdom and put through the grid of the second list in Colossians 3:

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:12-17

The maturing of a believer is an awakening of the mind to the many discrepancies between our confession of “Jesus is Lord” and our mental pathways. In time, the Holy Spirit reveals to the willing the discrepancies so our minds may align with our confession.

Our “Jesus is Lord” confession upon conversion is not negated by this discrepancy. Our heart’s desire in that moment is to serve the Lord, and we succeed on a macro level. But sin leaves wreckage in its wake. The continued exposure to a world that celebrates sin reinforces the old paths, making it difficult to live entirely under the reign of Christ.

This begs the question, “Do my actions, decisions, and desires reflect Jesus as Lord?” If a job promotion is offered, or an opportunity arises, this is the question we must ask. If you come into a large sum of money, your decision needs to be put through this grid. If you want to marry or date someone, ask this question. How you discipline an employee or respond to a superior must be put through this grid. Relations with friends, families, strangers, and persecutors must all be subject to the rule of Jesus. This question reveals whether your confession is a binding oath or whimsical.

Over time, this question becomes internalized. Your grid becomes scripture as you consume it. As your mind is further renewed, you find more often your internal motivations reflect the Lordship of Christ. But even the most mature must not move away from testing which king they serve with their decisions, not out of fear of failure but a fear of God, a strong desire to reject the way that leads to destruction.

Does this sound daunting? That is why we rely on the Holy Spirit and ask him to lead us, not just once, but in every task and situation. We trust him to outline our misalignment and to renew our minds.  We are still being redeemed and are not equipped without the Holy Spirit, without the full armour of God, to make true our confession that Jesus is Lord.

The filling of the Holy Spirit is not an added bonus. The Holy Spirit is our passport, marking us as citizens of heaven. He is our guide to life in the kingdom of God, and the power by which we can live under the rule and reign of Christ.

What’s in Season?


For everything there is a season. Some practices transcend seasons, such as prayer, reading Scripture and communion, but may become the primary focus in a specific season. Other practices such as mourning or feasting belong in a season. It is important to rightly assess what is required in a given season. If we miss the grace of God in a season we operate in opposition to what God is doing and are hindered in moving forward.

A season always gives way to another one. Just like the seasons in nature, each is required in their given ecosystem. Just as plants and animals respond to the changing of the seasons in the physical world, it is important we do the same spiritually.

One of the most important things that church elders (or leadership) can do is be aware of how to lead their congregation in the proper season. The Lord is gracious in making known the season and preparing us for it. God does this so we can walk in step with the good plans he has.

As churches come out of a time of adhering to governmental restrictions we should be asking, “Have we lost the practice of obeying the requirements of the Lord instead of the demands of man?” We have a tendency to first look to the world to understand how to be like Jesus in a season. We try to understand how to react to the world instead of being led by God. This assumes a defensive posture.

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:6-9

Please don’t hear me say that following the Covid restrictions was an act of rebellion against God. What I am trying to clarify is that the Lord frequently calls us to calibrate our actions to the changing season as a community and individuals. Rather than just a new sermon series, there will be times when the whole life of the church is to focus on evangelism, prayer, generosity, repentance, thanksgiving or self control (to name a few) because of the season we are in, such as in Lent or Advent in Orthodox Church traditions.

It is not just the official church functions but the everyday life of believers which should be oriented on the God-given focus of a season. Our failure to be aware of the season frequently causes us to miss out on what God is doing. We can end up working at cross purposes despite our motive to serve the Lord.

It is often necessary to stop programs in order to focus on what is important. Jesus did this when he stopped what he was doing and focused on the need set before him. We too should be aware of how God is at work and be led by compassion as the church.

Just as God leads a local congregation through seasons, he will do the same with families and individuals.

I have found in my personal life God prepares me in one season for what is required in the next. Sometimes the season of preparation makes little sense until I experience something for which I was ill prepared before the growth God led me through.

God prepares the church in the same way as individuals. Elders should be bold in responding to the leading of the Lord, not act because of societal pressures but out of a fear of the Lord. How can we withstand the pressures awaiting us unless we are prepared for them?

Although Jesus did not need preparation, he modeled this through entering the wilderness to be tested following his baptism.

We need to develop the habit of asking the Lord what he is doing in the current or upcoming season and how by his grace we are to live in season. Like pulling out our winter coats for winter and shorts for the summer, we need to know how to address the coming season. This is best asked prior to planning lest we be caught making plans in vain. It is not wrong to make plans but we must loosely hold them as we seek to better understand what the will of God is. We should make plans with the added “God willing”.

Following someone else’s blueprint can be a great thing if it is what the Lord is currently requiring. There have been movements when there was training en masse for a season when God led entire denominations or regions through the same plan. An example of this is the Experiencing God study led by Henry Blackaby which was used powerfully amongst the Southern Baptists and others in the 1990s. It is good when the Lord does this, but there are times when we attempt to recreate success rather than obey God. This does not go well and we lose out not only on what God intended for that season but also the practice of being led by God through the season he has us in.

Just because someone else is experiencing a season we would prefer, it doesn’t mean we are able to create their season in our own life. It might not even be good for us to live that experience. If it is not of God for you it cannot be good. For as Jesus said, “Only God is good”. We should rejoice when we see people respond to a move of God and not covet it for ourselves. We should rejoice in what God has for others, and rejoice in the season he has us in because he knows what is good for all.

Solomon understood “there is a season for everything”. Beneficial actions require an understanding of what the season requires. If it is a time for mourning, we should mourn. If it is a time to fast, we are to fast. If it is a time of thanksgiving, we ought to give thanks. If it is a time of purification, we must purge. It is not complicated but it requires diligence and obedience.

We must not react to the push and pull of the outside world for, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). Our seasons are set by the Lord and not by man. How we respond to what is happening in the world around us ought not to be because of the demands of man, but because of the commands of God.

Jesus says in John 5:19 he can only do what he sees the Father doing. Our goal in desiring to be like Jesus is thus not imitating the actions of man but looking to God for our marching orders. Throughout the New Testament we see Jesus and then the church making waves through their actions. The way of the Lord will at times be met with great hostility. The response of the world does not dictate what is good for only God is good.

In Mark 5 Jesus is chased out of town for sending a demon out of a man and into some pigs. In Luke 7 Jesus is silently ridiculed for allowing a sinner to anoint his head. In Acts 19 Paul sparked a riot in Ephesus as the people clung to Artemis as their God. These are just a few examples of when obedience to God met great opposition. Can you imagine if instead Jesus and Paul had acted to appease the culture or reflect the world around them?

In many instances a new physical reality demands a response by the body of Christ. In poverty the people of God should care for the needy. Where there is sickness we should partner with God in seeing people made well. Just as Jesus acted through compassion, so should we. There will always be desperation and need in this world until Christ returns. It is the result of sin. It is not that we cannot determine acts that reflect the heart of God, it is that we have a tendency to act without him. We then remove God entirely from the process resulting in acts of charity that reflect his ways but have no eternal impact. It is vital we act out of conviction in obedience.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Psalm 127:1-2

At times we act as though God has left us on our own to figure things out. We wrestle with decisions absent of searching the scriptures or hearing the Lord in prayer. Even the wayward kings of Israel sought out the Prophets for how to act in a given season but failed to follow the actions laid out.

Through the Holy Spirit and the word of God we have access to the Father’s will and the means to understand it. Building in vain is not something we should find ourselves doing. Bowing to other kings is not an option. We see in the accounts of Israel the results of such actions, and we know from church history it has gone the same way since the ascension of Christ. When we choose to look to other sources to set our path in a season we stray from the grace of God and find ourselves lost.

Remember the Lord our God is good and perfect in all he does. His ways and thoughts are higher than our own. What God has laid out before us in a season will always be good even when we do not feel it or understand it. His nature will never change. In every season his ways will forever be good and best.

The Myth of Independence


For so long we have embraced independence. We use the term independent as a compliment and something to strive towards. The thought of giving up our independence is laughable. The act of surrender is the act of letting go of our independence. It is allowing another to have influence, and even authority over our actions and decisions. But so many old hymns speak of surrendering all to God. How can that be a desire if independence is so important?

The act of surrender throughout history has looked very different. The results and ramifications have also varied, but have influenced the way we view surrender. The Roman practice of surrender on the battlefield was to lay down their shields. In ancient Greece, the surrendering party would send an olive branch to the opposing forces. In more recent history, we see a white flag being waved. These are the practices or the act of surrender by the conquered side. They were then at the whims of the conqueror. Throughout history there have been very different demands placed on the conquered foe. Some empires demanded tribute. Some still killed part of the population and set up city rulers under the conqueror’s control. In most cases the conquered group or nation would be at the beck and call of their overlords. If called upon, they would be forced to go to battle for the conquerors.

We know from scripture the nation of Israel had multiple points where they were conquered and surrendered. We see this in Egypt where they are enslaved and in Babylon where Daniel and his cohort are serving the court (as eunuchs I might add). In the Roman Empire, we see a mix of slaves, foreigners and Roman citizens who could all originate from the same region of the world.

In most cases, there would be some sort of negotiation of the terms of surrender, what the losing side would need to give up. The terms have differed across the ages and depending on the nations in command. One thing, however, is constant: surrender has always been seen as a failure. To give up some control and enslave yourself to an opposing force is a failure.

In contrast to all of those examples, surrendering to God isn’t losing. Let’s look at what happened in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, though they didn’t understand the terms, surrendered to sin. They handed all of creation over to an oppressing force that ever since has had us in its grip. We do not have the power to rise up against the force of evil that has enslaved us. We cannot rally together to overthrow darkness. What it takes is our surrender back to God. Surrendering to God is the act (made possible through the victory of Jesus) of returning to our previous state.

“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?”
Romans 6:16

The trick that Satan used on Adam and Eve was convincing them God was withholding and not allowing them to be truly free. The reality was very different, however. It was true freedom they were experiencing, freedom from the oppression of sin.

The difference between surrender to God and surrender to anything or anyone else is that God created us and knows what we are made for. That is exactly what he wants for us, and what he gives to us. Complete surrender to God allows him to vanquish all other things we have surrendered to. It will remove us from oppression and make us truly free.

Scripture tells us little of what the garden was like. But we know Adam and Eve had purpose and freedoms, without anxiety, need or struggle. The only restriction given was so they would not become enslaved to an oppressor.

God is so unlike any other being or force. He has no needs, no pride or ego to serve. He doesn’t need to flex his muscles with us or prove himself. His nature is always benevolent and good. He doesn’t wish to control, but to free us.

I believe surrender is such a difficult thing to embrace because the thought of surrendering to anyone else is crippling. Especially in an age where independence is so valued, the thought of handing over our independence sounds like and feels like oppression.

Independence is something we highly value as a society. Cambridge dictionary defines independence as “not influenced or controlled in any way by other people, events, or things”. Is that even possible?! I would like someone to tell me one time they were ever independent, based on that definition. I bet I could find a way you were influenced by someone else in making that decision.

I would argue we are always being influenced by something or someone. There is no single act that is so isolated it has no outside influence. By this definition, God would be the only being capable of true independence. He existed before all other things and out of his own desire created all things.

Even though we don’t usually outright state it, we associate independence with freedom. Ever since Adam and Eve were tricked into this association, we have maintained this idea. This makes surrender so difficult for us. We need to escape from this lie. We need to renounce it. We need to embrace the truth that only in Christ are we truly free. Only in surrendering to God can we find the freedom we long for.

Surrendering to God is not like surrendering to a nation. There are no negotiated terms of surrender. We need to surrender all we are to be influenced and directed by God. He does not ask us to pay tribute, or maintain partial pursuit of independence. It needs to be a complete submission so we may be free of the other influences.

“Submit therefore to God Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
James 4:7

The only hope we have to find freedom from death is surrender. The only way to be free of the grips of sin is to submit to God and resist influences that oppose Him. This freedom is available but we must first hand over our independence and trust God rather than the lie of independence.

A Call to Obey


I woke up this morning thinking about all the instructions Jesus gives us. I thought about how I at times pick and choose what is important and what isn’t. How is it we can be so combative on certain theological views and at the same time glance over direct instructions?

The Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ response to the Pharisees in Matthew 15 come to mind concerning this issue. In Matthew 15, Jesus’ disciples are ridiculed by the Pharisees for not performing the ceremonial hand washing. Jesus in turn points out that the Pharisees are not honouring their parents, one of the 10 commandments.

I think we often skip over the commandments given and get caught up with cultural practices and heady theology. There are so many directives in the New Testament, both in the teachings of Jesus, and in the letters sent to the early church. I fall victim to glancing over these at times and going straight to deep theology. This is not ok!

These directives are given by the one we call Lord! That means we must obey. There is no picking and choosing what instructions to follow. We are to hear (or read) and obey. There are many deep truths in scripture to be discovered and ways in which we need to understand in greater depths. These are not the directives of which I speak.I am talking about all those do’s and don’ts. We shouldn’t deliberate these things. There is no room for debate.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells the listeners not to store up riches on earth where they fade away, but to store up riches in heaven where they are forever. So often we take away the underlying truth in this statement but do not adhere to the directive. We instead read “this earth is not forever, so be sure to prepare for life after death.” It even goes on to say that you can’t serve both God and money.

But there is a directive and not just a theological point here. “Don’t lay up for yourselves treasure on earth…lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.” This is so easy for us to miss. It might be partially because it is in written form. We are so used to treating things that are written as an academic pursuit rather than a place to receive instructions. We try and figure out deep meanings at the cost of obedience.

This isn’t a legalism issue. This is about learning the ways of the kingdom. This is about learning to be obedient. Disobedience to directives exposes we serve another master. We should be asking ourselves whether we are walking in obedience to God. Sometimes we should read these directives and hear the conviction of the Holy Spirit saying, “Why do you break God’s command because of your tradition?”

Let’s take storing up treasures on earth as an example. Does the security of finances keep us from the kingdom of God? Is our goal and ambition to be financially secure? Do we dream of our next purchase? Or do we pursue the things that are for eternal rewards, like saving people from certain death (life without Christ) through making disciples?

As I was sharing this revelation with a friend, I realized that written texts (like the bible) are almost exclusively used for academic purposes in most contexts today. We don’t treat it as instructional as it was intended to be. The teachings of Jesus are incredibly practical and instructive. The letters are very corrective and instructional. I am recognizing even when I read the instructions, I am quick to turn to academic pursuit as a natural starting place.

I think we should ask the question when we read scripture, “Is there a call to action in the text?” We should keep pursuing a deeper understanding of the heart of God, and how we can be changed into his likeness. We should keep pursuing the deep knowledge of who we are as children of God and how we are to act as the church. But none of these should be at the cost of obedience to the directives of God. Remember that obedience means reading and doing.

Dance Upon Disappointment


On January 1 this year I took a hike to reflect on the past year. Solo hiking has become an incredible way for me to connect with God. It allows me (without feeling others will think I am crazy) to talk out loud with God as I walk. It is so incredible to be alone with God in his beautiful creation, experiencing a bit of what it must have been like for Adam to walk with God in “the cool of the day”.


From this year of walking with God, I have some things to thank God for and give him glory for. I also have disappointments from the past year to work through. There were things I was hoping for that never happened. There were things I wanted to see happen in the lives of those around me that didn’t happen. There were things I wanted to see happen in ministry that didn’t materialize. There were memories of my own failure, and things for which I was asking God, “Why didn’t you show up? Why were my prayers not answered?”

Some of you as you are reading this are thinking, who are you to question God not showing up? But I am reminded of David writing in Psalm 13:

1 O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

3 Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
4 Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
6 I will sing to the Lord
because he is good to me.

Something I have come to learn is that disappointment will follow me until I deal with it. Sometimes my disappointment drove me to improve, and other times it caused me to cower away, but it was always there. When we are disappointed in our own actions, we tend to disqualify ourselves from moving forward. We see ourselves as failures who have no reason to be given another opportunity.

When we are disappointed by God not showing up, it brings on a whole slew of other problems. Now, please hear me correctly. I AM NOT SAYING THAT GOD FAILED! What I am saying is, we wanted God to do something and He did not do it. My disappointment is not based on a promise he gave, but a desire I had. This can be anything from the death of a loved one, someone not being healed, someone not turning to Jesus, or not getting that job/house/car/promotion we wanted. Let’s be honest, at those times we are disappointed. We say, “How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul!”

Disappointment not dealt with will not go away. It will become the breeding ground for lies about our identity and the nature of God. It will create a barrier between us and the discipleship God has in store for us. In order for us to be ready for what is next, we need to surrender what has passed.

So how are we to deal with disappointment? Just sitting in the disappointment or dredging up these memories to dwell on will not help. To hand over our disappointment to God is to admit: “God this was hard! I really wanted this and thought it was good… or, I failed badly in this, I hurt others and acted poorly.” We do this not to wallow in self pity, but to say, “God I give this to you and don’t hang on to it. I surrender this regret/disappointment/failure and ask that you would take it so that it will not have a hold on me moving forward.”

From there we praise God as David does:
“5 But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
6 I will sing to the Lord
because he is good to me.”

I have oft thought of Peter denying Jesus three times. That was a pretty big failure to come back from. How did he even show his face around the other disciples after that? But Jesus doesn’t treat him as a failure before or after he failed. Jesus is not disappointed in Peter. He does not disqualify Peter, but tasks him (among others) as one who will establish the church. Just like Peter, we are invited to be free of the failure that could restrict us. We don’t need to earn our way back into God’s good books, and he sure doesn’t need to earn his way back into ours.

The start of a new year (yes, I know we are a few weeks into January) is a great time to start fresh. I hope last week you spent some time acknowledging where God showed up this past year. I encourage you this week to set some time aside with God to address your disappointments. Take time to cry out to God and repent of your own failures. Make sure you surrender each of those circumstances to God and at the end rejoice in the goodness of God. Remind yourself of the truths of who God is through praise, just as David does in Psalm 13.

No Fear

I have been thinking lately about the fruit of the spirit. In particular, I have been thinking about peace. The Holy Spirit produces peace within us and we get to experience it at all times. It is not reliant on circumstances or our emotional state. It is simply available for us to receive as we align ourselves with God by yielding to the Holy Spirit.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
1 John 4:18-20

Many times in my life, I have had people tell me they feel peace around me. I have received this encouragement from people in all walks of life. This peace is not something I have created or cultivated or searched for. It is something that I have learned to receive and live in.

Peace is something we can receive in any moment as we acknowledge and surrender our fears to God.

There is a difference between caution and fear. Caution is when I heed the warning sign that says don’t go on the dark rocks because you may be swept out to sea by a wave. Fear is when you look down every minute to make sure the rock you are standing on isn’t as dark as the ones by the water. Caution informs a decision, whereas fear makes a decision.

Fear paralyzes you. It changes the way you think. It irrationally causes you to self protect. It ignores what is true or logical, and becomes the basis for your decisions. It grabs hold of your emotions, body and mind.

When I lived in Waterloo, I lived in a house with a few guys. We came up with a phrase: fight, flight, or Jesus. Our bodies have a survival mechanism called a “fight or flight” response to stressful situations. Intended for life and death situations, our bodies can overreact to common non-life-threatening stressors in this way as well. When stress (or fear) hits, our body naturally goes into a crisis mode and the crisis centre takes over with fight or flight. Jesus is what we referred to as the other option. We are able to surrender our fear and place our trust in God. We are able to come under the perfect love of God.

Martyrs are an example of this response (ie. Stephen in Acts 7), as is Moses interacting with Pharaoh, and Jesus being arrested (John 18). We are called to a different response than fear. Peace can come as we hand over the fear and the stress and receive the peace offered to us.


I went on a last-minute hiking trip this summer with my friend Mat to Pollets Cove. It was a 5 hour drive to the start of the trail. We arrived just under 2 hours before sunset to the trail that should take way longer than that to complete. We set out anyways and arrived at the end of the trail just after the sunset. Having never been there before, we quickly scouted out a place to set up camp with only the light of dusk to guide us. We set up the tent on a windy cliff top and climbed in the tent as it was raining. While searching for our flashlights, we found some sticky substance in the tent. Our flashlights illuminated a tent covered in marshmallows! An open bag had been left in the tent when it was packed up. We were 10km from the closest people, with no cell reception in an area known for bears, wolves, coyotes and mixed breeds. The wind howled around us and suddenly the fly on our tent blew off as we attempted sleep. My friend was hit with fear (which is understandable given the circumstances). He sat straight up and whispered, “Do you hear that? I think there is an animal out there.” He started praying and quietly said, “JOEL PRAY!” As we prayed he began acknowledging and surrendering his fears to God. We asked for God’s protection and for the tent to stay upright. It took some time, but eventually we found peace and fell asleep. The next morning, we woke up to see that our tent pegs had been ripped out of the ground but the tent poles had somehow dug themselves into the ground to keep the tent upright. The fly stayed attached on one side and didn’t blow away. We were safe, and our prayers had been answered.




Circumstances like this can trigger fears that are dormant in us. The invitation of God is the removal of these fears. Fear is not supposed to dwell in the same house as the love we have found. Perfect love cleans house. It casts out the fear. This perfect love is found only in God. It is the love that Stephen finds as he is addressing the crowds and while being stoned. A removal of fear does not promise the removal of circumstances or pain, but it places the onus for protection away from us and into the hands of God. It brings peace because we can trust that God is good and what he has for us is good. He knows what we need and is trustworthy with everything we hand over to him.

This is the peace we have to offer the world. It is not an invitation to simply manage fear so we can coexist with others. It is an invitation to encounter a perfect love and share it with others. The world experiences the presence of God in us when they spend time with us. They will find their fears disappear in the moments they are with us. But we are not the saviour of their lives. We get to live in the perfect love of our heavenly father at all times. When those who do not know Jesus experience his love in us it is for but a moment. It is a moment of opportunity, an opportunity to be free of fear. The more we encounter the love of God, the more we give access to him in place of fear, the less we are affected by circumstances, even momentarily. The more mature disciples we become, the more steadfast we become, planted securely in the love of the father. God is so faithful and gracious in moments when we still encounter fear and stress. He welcomes us to hand him our fears, and trust in his love.

There is no fear
There is no fear in Your love
With open hearts God
We are ready to run
Into Your presence
There is no fear in Your love
(“No Fear In Your Love” by Jeremy Riddle)

I often find myself singing this chorus. It spurs me on to encounter the love of God. It helps me invite God to expose any fears that are still present and helps me release them to God. It reminds me there is no reason to fear, and to run into his presence completely exposed. It reminds me the only place fear remains is where I haven’t allowed the presence of God access to. His invitation is for all of me. He desires my heart to be wide open to receive the fullness of his perfect love. He desires this for all of us. Listen to the song and respond to the invitation of God to run into his presence, and encounter his perfect love. Hand over your fears to him and encounter peace in the place of fear.