The Best Yoke

“The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD. And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline…” (Lamentations 3:25-27 NLT)

I read a devotional recently that got me thinking about yokes. Normally, we view them in a fairly negative light, as objects that restrict and weigh down. In church circles, when we talk about being unequally yoked, the warning is that you are binding yourself forever with someone whose differing beliefs and values will hold you back or, worse, cause pain and damage in your life.

We see pictures of oxen wearing yokes and perhaps feel a twinge of pity for the large animals whose freedom to roam independently is taken away.

However, upon further reflection, I’ve come to realize that a yoke can be a wonderful thing. It’s not a restraint I’m used to—I’m not only single but I’m also self-employed, which means I generally can operate as a free agent—and yet I see the value in using a yoke in a positive way. In fact, I am starting to wonder if a lack of “yokes” might be one of the problems afflicting today’s Body of Christ.

Think about how a yoke functions: A horizontal beam, usually made of wood, is used to tie together a pair of animals—usually oxen—to enable them to work together to pull a heavy load. Neither of those animals would be able to do the work alone but, teamed up side by side, they can make great progress together, drawing from each other’s strength.

Jesus-yoke-is-easyIn our lives, partnering with a spouse, a friend, a co-worker or a teammate to work toward a shared goal can often be far more effective than someone working alone. Weaknesses and strengths can creatively be fitted together to achieve wonderful results.

Whether or not we go through life yoked with others—some are free spirits while others need more intimacy and community—there is one yoke we must take upon ourselves. It is not only a good yoke, but it is the best yoke. It is the yoke that connects us with Jesus. It is the yoke that allows us to lean on God when we are tired and lost and weak.

Jesus promised: “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.” (Luke 11:29-30)

What have you yoked yourself with in your life? Is it time to disconnect and take on Jesus’ yoke instead?

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

P.S. I encourage you to read all of Lamentations 3!

 

Thankful for the Thorn

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12)

On certain holidays and occasions— such as Thanksgiving, New Years Eve or a milestone birthday—many of us will take some kind of mental inventory of the past and assess what went wrong, what went right and all the ways God has blessed us. However, we sometimes forget that we are to thank God for everything, not only the things we like or feel thankful for (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We can take no credit for thanking God for the easy and pleasant things.

George Matheson, a Scottish minister and hymn writer who lived from 1842 to 1906, once wrote:

“My God, I have never thanked thee for my thorn. I have thanked thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross, but I have never thought of my cross as itself a present glory. Thou divine Love, whose human path has been perfected through sufferings, teach me the glory of my cross, teach me the value of my thorn.”

This month, as we observe Holy Week and remember Jesus’ sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection, let us reflect on the thorns He bore for us. It’s important to note that the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head between the time of His flogging and the crucifixion was not only physically painful but it was also degrading—a symbol of mockery.

Philippians 2:1-11 paints a beautiful picture of Jesus’ humility and strength in “becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (v. 8) Jesus had the power and authority to refuse the thorns in His life. But He endured them, and He will help us endure our thorns, which pale in comparison to His.Old-Pink-Rose-Image-GraphicsFairy1

Perhaps you’ve had people lash out at you, not because of anything you’ve done but because of their own issues, or you’ve faced medical problems that seemed to come from nowhere. Perhaps you’ve had responsibilities get dumped on you when you felt like your burden was already too heavy.

If you can look at a difficult situation and praise God for allowing it to be part of your life, you will turn that hardship into a blessing! This month, take time to thank God for your thorn and see how your heart changes as a result. (And read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 to see how the Apostle Paul dealt with his thorn.)

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

[adapted from a devotional in my book Restore My Soul]

 

Justice or Mercy?

A book I recently read, The Mark of the King, newly published by my friend Jocelyn Green, depicts the early years of the French colonization of Louisiana. In it, a military captain confesses to his new bride that, when he had served as an altar boy years before, he “grew overfond of robes and rules. I watched myself and others so closely, looking for missteps that needed correcting. It was wrong of me…” Now, in contrast, he was ready to follow the teachings of Jesus and to be a man, not only of faith, but of grace and peace. For himself and for his new household, he only wanted to know God and be known by Him.

His words struck a chord with me because I can remember times in my own life, growing up in the church, when I seemed so concerned about the missteps of others that I not only sometimes overlooked my own, but I also was slow in offering grace and mercy.

I suspect this is not an uncommon ailment among humans. Today we hear, almost daily, about social justice warriors who claim they are fighting for the rights of those who are marginalized or oppressed. In some cases, however, it is easy to see that the motivation behind their activism is a sense of moral superiority. . .a desire to vilify and hold accountable groups and individuals they personally disagree with or feel offended by.

Indeed, the Bible does instruct us to expose evil and darkness (in Ephesians 5:11) and to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8, emphasis mine) but that is not a license for us to condemn those whom Christ has forgiven and redeemed, or those who are seeking Him and are trying to live in obedience. It is also not a license for us to take the law into our own hands.

In the TV adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Hercule Poirot confronts the group of people who teamed up to kill a man they felt had gotten away with murder. When one of them objects that the law had let them down, he responds: “No! No, you behave like this and we become just savages in the street! … The rule of law, it must be held high and if it falls you pick it up and hold it even higher! For all of society, all civilized people will have nothing to shelter them if it is destroyed!” One of the women again objects: “There is a higher justice than the rule of law, monsieur!” to which he replies: “Then you let God administer it…not you!”

Are we willing to let God administer justice in the world today? Or do we fear He is too merciful? It is dangerous to think that we know better than He does. Let us remember how, in our own lives, Jesus took us beyond justice. . .to mercy.

 

 

Great Canadian Giveaways

Hello, friends! I haven’t posted in several months as I took an unofficial break from blogging (and I’m still trying to decide how I want to use this blog in my writing ministry) but I wanted to share something exciting with you today.

I am thrilled to be a contributing author to the “7 Days of Great Canadian Giveaways,” running February 6 to 12, 2017. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to win an amazing prize package by outstanding Canadian Christian authors and recording artists. Please note that Canadian citizens living in Canada ONLY qualify for this particular promotion.

Each and every day during the contest duration, two prize packages will be posted at http://sallymeadows.com/blog. For each day you comment on the blog AND click on the link to go to the author’s Facebook page, you will be entered into both prize packages for that day. You can enter any time during the contest period for any or all of the days. Contest runs from 9:00 am (Eastern Time) on February 6, 2017 to 11:00 pm on February 12, 2017. Entries submitted prior or after that time period are ineligible for the giveaways. For complete contest rules, please go to the event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/614924578714278/.

My prize package will be featured on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Here’s a sneak peek at what I’m giving away (there will be a little more added to the package):

giveaway_1

Thank you for your interest in this contest and for supporting Canadian Christian authors. Have fun! 🙂

Thy Will Be Done

In Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, the second book in Jan Karon’s Mitford Series, Father Tim Kavanagh says there is one prayer God always answer with a yes: Thy will be done. 

However, there is a caveat, he cautions when Sharon McCurdy asks, “That’s it?”

“One must pray it with a surrendered heart.”

After praying for Sharon, who is unable to pray herself because of her doubts, he adds:

“When I speak God’s will, it helps to know that he wants the best for us. If you can’t believe he’s there, pray anyway. If you feel he’s cheap and withholding, thank him anyway. There will come a time when you’ll thank him even for the hard places.”

Some of us struggle with doubt and that can keep us from trusting in God’s will. Others are so confident and determined to do great things that we may forget that God’s will is supreme. Either way, we believe that we know better than He does. It take a great deal of courage and humility to trust that He not only knows what’s best, that He not only is able to do what’s best but also that He is willing to do what’s best. Why? Because He loves us.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

I have a lot more I’d like to share in the coming weeks—much has been going on during my blogging hiatus—but I just wanted to pass along this word of encouragement to you.

I urge you to meditate on these four powerful words—Thy will be done—this week. This beautiful song from Hillary Scott may help:

I’ll be back soon! Until then, let me share one quick link with you. Click here to download my free printable and colourable September calendar. (Yes, you can share it!)

September

Let Us Not Grow Weary

Although I spend my days mostly alone in my home office, I have enough access to social media and interact with enough people who stay on top of current news to get my daily fill of what’s happening around the world and locally. Sometimes I wish I could block it all out, however. Know what I mean?

Every day I hear about new developments in political races, international affairs, religious issues and social trends and most of it is discouraging. Just one or two decades ago, when I was a young adult, it seemed like we dealt with one social issue at a time and hashed it out for a while until it either was resolved or blew over. Nowadays it feels like something new needs our attention every day.

sigh-charlie-brown

Do you ever wonder,

“How much worse are things going to get? Why doesn’t God do something? When is Jesus coming back?”

Do you ever feel like it’s too hard to keep going as a Christian in a world that is becoming increasingly secular, godless and hostile toward anything that has to do with Jesus and the Word of God? It can be tempting to just give up and “go with the flow.”

There’s a verse that is often on my mind and I find it so motivating that I’ve started adding the reference every time I sign one of my books for someone. Galatians 6:9 reminds us:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

I understand the word “weary” these days more than ever before. I spent most of June trying to recover from a nasty virus that gave me strep throat and an ear infection and, believe me, I grew weary. I didn’t feel like working, I sulked a lot and it took more effort than I wanted to make to accomplish simple tasks.

That’s how I feel sometimes when I look at what’s going on in the world. I think,

“Why bother? What difference can my small acts of service make? How can God possibly use me when the waves of change are so strong and relentless?”

Then God reminds me of little things that make a big difference: the small rudder on a ship that helps steer the huge vessel in the right direction, microscopic white blood cells that fight infections in our bodies, bees the size of your thumbnail that pollinate agricultural crops and are responsible for one-third of the bites of food we eat… The list is long!

You, too, are truly valuable in God’s kingdom!

Still feeling unsure? I encourage you to memorize and prayerfully meditate on Galatians 6:9 this week.



P.S. I have lots of news I’d like to share with you, which is one reason it’s taken me so long to update my blog (I’ve been waiting for a chunk of time to sit down and organize it all). In the meantime, I finally decided to go ahead and share the meditation above with you. I’ll try to write again this week and give you some fun updates and links. 🙂

Life as a Tree

Out of all the wonderful things God has created—animals, flowers, mountains, oceans, clouds—trees are possibly my favourite aspect of nature. Whether lacy with snow in winter, freshly budding in spring, shady in summer or fire-red in the fall, I find trees utterly fascinating and often find myself admiring their majesty when walking or driving through a well-treed area.

Quercus_macrocarpa_Bur_Oak

quercus macrocarpa (bur oak)

You can imagine my joy, then, when the City of Outremont planted a young tree on our church lawn recently. Last fall they had to uproot an ash tree in that spot because it had been infected by beetles. In its place now stands a somewhat awkward-looking but healthy bur oak.

This new addition to our property got me to thinking about how humans are a lot like infected trees before we meet Christ. Throughout the city, trees that had been attacked and damaged by the emerald ash borer were cut down and destroyed. These trees could not be pruned, patched up, scrubbed or coaxed back into good health. The old trees had to be removed and new trees had to be planted in their place.

Isn’t that a lot like what God does in our lives when we are born again? Our natural selves are infected with sin and condemned to hell. No amount of good works, no matter how sincere, can scrub sin out of our souls. Discipline, positive thinking, religion, self-sacrifice, and philanthropy cannot eliminate the disease of sin we are born with.

We cannot be made alive in Christ until we put our old self to death—not physically, but in a spiritual sense—and allow Him to live in us and renew us.

In Galatians 2:20, Paul said:

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

He also wrote:

“In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted…and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Many other verses talk about the importance of being dead to sin and alive in Christ. I especially love how 2 Corinthians 5:17 puts it:

“So if any one be in Christ, there is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”

How is your life as a tree? Are you still trying to make it on your own, fighting the sin disease alone? Or have you allowed God to give you a new, whole and fruitful life?

Mini Update

While, I’m here, let me catch you up on what’s been happening this past month and what’s coming up. In brief…

  1. It’s my 44th birthday (June 2)! I think I’m finally ready to accept that I’m hitting middle age. 🙂
  2. Great news about my new book, Restore My Soul. The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association listed it on its Christian Bestsellers list for May 2016, in 34th position. Check out the list here!
  3. I wrote a guest blog post for my friend Karin Beery, a writer, editor and writing coach, packed with tips on getting your manuscript ready for submission: Polish Before You Publish. Feel free to share the link with friends who are aspiring (or even veteran) writers.
  4. I wrote another guest blog post for my friend Chris Maxwell, a pastor an author. This time I write about my creative process from kindergarten to the recent publication of my devotional colouring book. Check out “Created Creative” here. Perhaps it will inspire you to explore YOUR creative side!
  5. If you can get your hands on a copy of the Summer 2016 issue of The Coloring Studio, published by Stampington & Co., be sure to check out the front inside page. There’s a full-page illustration by me! And I’ll have a couple of illustrations in the fall issue as well. I’m stoked!

Before I go, I just want to remind you that you can connect with me on Instagram and use the hash tags #restoremysoul, #restoremysouldevo or #annhovsepian to share pictures of my colouring book pages that you’ve completed or are working on. I also want to ask you to consider writing a review of Restore My Soul on Amazon as soon as possible. Every review makes a huge difference! If you’d like to see more books from me in the future, I need your help and support. 🙂 Thanks so much!

I wish you all a lovely rest of the week. Don’t forget to bloom where you’re planted!

Ann-Margret

 

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