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Taking On My Yoke

A Life Worth Living - Sermon #02 - Taking On My Yoke

Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • April 30, 2017 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor

 

Missio Alliance Update

The staff and I just got back last night from the biennial Missio Alliance gathering in Alexandria, VA. It was several days of walking, learning, conversation, connection, and challenging theology. We also got to meet NT Wright and others. This church conference has been one of the best places to work out what it means to be a church in a challenging and changing landscape.

 

Be Born Again

I want to continue our series, “A Life Worth Living” by revisiting the exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus.

 

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” 3Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” 4“How can anyone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

 

When you think you have life all figured it out, it doesn’t help to have someone come along and point out you might still be missing something. You’ve cobbled together what you think is your best life with all of the ideas, images, and information you’ve collected, only to meet someone who is living life beyond your wildest dreams. They seem to be living a different kind of life, a life that’s full to overflowing. A life that’s settled, peaceful, and fulfilling. A life that’s currently unimaginable.

 

Jonathan Huie, says, “To change who you are, change who you think you are.”

 

By Renewing Your Mind

At the heart of transformation is our willingness to place ourselves before Jesus as his apprentice and allow him to reshape our thinking, helping us to see that a better way to live our lives is possible.

He inviting us to see the world the way he does, as someone who is deeply loved. The image that Jesus invokes is that of a child. There’s something tender about the trust that a child has for a loving parent.

 

3And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever takes a humble place—becoming like this child—is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (Matthew 18:3-5)

 

I know this could mean a lot of things since it’s a metaphor, but I want to draw your attention to the relationship between a child and a loving parent who is trusted by the child. Imagine the first time a child climbs the high monkey bars, initially afraid that they cannot do it, then with the encouragement of the loving parent, the child takes a risk knowing that their parent is there to catch them. That’s the image that I have here.

 

This child has to believe that climbing the monkey bars is possible, in order them to take the risk. Let me play with another metaphor, this one comes from St. Paul in Romans 12, it’s the idea of us renewing our mind.

 

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:1-2, The Message)

Our thoughts are one of the most basic sources of life. They determine the orientation of everything we do and evoke the feelings that frame our world and motivate our actions.

 

When we start the process of renewing our minds, we cannot think we start with the “correct” information. The child in front of the monkey bars, does not really care about the “correct information” of this new experience, mostly they just want to know if they can do it, and if they fail, will someone be there to catch them.

See, all behavior is based on a narrative. Narratives are the driving force giving life and meaning to who we are, what we think, what we believe, and how we act. They sit at the epicenter of our existence fueling the stories we tell and the stories we tell about ourselves. More than arguments and proposition supported with evidence, facts, and logic, narratives are bigger than all of these combined. Narratives transcend and subvert our realities. They are vitally important because they shape us and give meaning to our existence and daily lives.

 

Thinking back to our child at the monkey bars, this is why the parent says, “You can do it.” The parent is trying in that moment to change their child’s narrative about themselves and the monkey bars. “You can do it, and I’m right here to help you if you fail.” This is the process of being born again. Learning to trust. Learning that trust is simultaneously a thought, an action, and an emotion. We really start to trust as we align all three.  Being born again isn’t something we do on our own. We join with Jesus as we take steps, one step after another, not just arriving at end points. Trust in this environment takes time. We are invited to learn new stories. Jesus helps us do this by revealing to us the picture of God he has, that God is always good. He invites us to repent (metanoia) (think about your thinking) of our false images, ideas, dispositions of our hearts, and the information we have about God, and he invites us to join him as he entrusts himself to God’s care.

 

This, I believe, is the reason why Jesus often spoke in parables. I don’t think he spoke in parables to exclude people, to hide the truth or the meaning of what he wanted to share, or to seem mysterious, or aloof. He spoke in parables because he wanted to effect our thinking.

 

As we enter into the stories that Jesus tells about himself and his Father, this helps to  reshape and reform our narratives. He wants us to be born again. His stories were phenomenal, shocking, and amazing because he lived and operated in a reality that was in stark contrast to ours. He lived and operated within the kingdom of God, in every story he tells, he invites us to join him there. Jesus revealed the good and beautiful God who only wants our best, loves us deeply, provides for our needs, and is completely trustworthy. This is the God that Jesus called Father, the God that Jesus completely trusted, and was made secure in his love, and was willing to follow, even though that path led to death on a Roman cross. This God, that he called Father, is always good and beautiful, never cruel, capricious, or selfish.

 

Renewing Our Images

Many of us have rejected God in our thoughts and so it’s in our thought that we start the renewal of our minds. The realm of our thoughts involves four main areas: ideas, images, information, and our ability to think, but the two most important are our ideas and images. And the hardest to change is our ideas. They form the patterns of our interpretation of our reality, they are deeply rooted, and are shared socially. They are so pervasive and essential to how we think that we hardly understand them or realize when they are at work. It usually takes divine intervention to change them, so instead let’s focus on our images.

 

Our images are concrete or specific, and are often entrenched with feeling and emotion.   Jesus was confronting Nicodemus’ image of himself, so when Jesus says, “you must be born again” to Nicodemus, Jesus is inviting him and us to renew our mind by throwing out our distorted images of ourselves and God.

 

Jesus wanted to replace Nicodemus’ salvation ladder with a cross. He was trying to say to Nicodemus, it doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve accomplished. It doesn’t matter if you are a teacher, a politician, or a spiritual hero, or  zero. To enter eternal life, you have to be born again. It’s not something you do, it‘s something that God does.

 

And Jesus wasn’t just asking Nicodemus to do something, he was planning to demonstrate it himself. (I’m going to give you the tools too) See, Jesus also had to trust his father. He trusted his father's love and care for him. It led him to what seemed to be a failure of love and care: death on a cross. But God raised Jesus from the dead. So Jesus' trust in his father was confirmed.

 

Jesus says, “Trust me, and I will show you the way.” Learn to entrust yourselves to God and when you do this, you will learn to live life without worry, anxiety, or fear.

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

 

When Jesus says, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” He is saying, I have accepted you as you are, where you are. And at the same time, he says, “you have to been born again.” It’s both and and. You are accepted, and you have to change.

 

Practical Tip

Here’s what I want to do with the rest of our time. I want us to try to experience God’s deep love for us for about five minutes.

 

We start by asking the Spirit to reveal to us an area of sin that God wants to deal with, in this action we are dealing with the issues of transformation that God wants to accomplish. When we try to name our sin apart from the Spirit, we are mostly naming things that are tied up in our picture or image of ourselves, which might not be how God see us or is what God wants to work on in us.

 

There are at least four steps:

Ask the Spirit to reveal your sin, then confess (state) your sin. (Psalm 51:1)

(God initiates our transformation, he calls to repentance.)

Ask the Spirit to reveal the thoughts and feelings behind your sin. (Psalm 51:6)

(You need the Spirit help to teach you this wisdom)

Ask for forgiveness (Psalm 51:7-11)

(Soak in God’s forgiveness Zephaniah 3:17, 1 John 3:1)

Ask God for help in planning the next step (Psalm 51:13-15)

 

I confess, O God –

that often I let my mind wander down unclean and forbidden ways;

that often I deceive myself as to where my plain duty lies:

that often, by concealing my real motives, I pretend to be better than I am:

that often my honesty is only a matter of policy (not of action):

that often my affection for my friends is only a refined form of caring for myself:

that often my sparing of my enemy is due to nothing more than cowardice:

that often I do good deeds only that they may be seen of men, and shun evil ones because I fear they may be found out.

O holy One, let the fire of Thy love enter my heart, and burn up all this coil of meanness and hypocrisy, and make my heart as the heart of a little child.

 
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