The Blog of Pastor Mike Wilkins
"The long run" referred to in the title of this blog is, in the first place, the many years Mike Wilkins served as West London's solo pastor, and then its Senior Pastor, since he and his wife Deb moved to London (and this church) in 1984.
In these past few years (beginning November 2011,) Mike's various health challenges, particularly a serious and ongoing case of cancer, has added another layer to the "long run" metaphor, and lots to blog about. Mike is currently on an extended Sick Leave, but generally worships with the church family on Sunday mornings.
With the publication of a book he wrote in 2016 entitled "Glory in the Face" (now available electronically and in paperback from Amazon.ca, and other online venders), Mike has just launched a new website, which will serve as a sort of scrapbook for readers of the book, with relevant background photos, for example, of That Last Final Solo Canoe Trip in May, 2011, as well as additional information about the book, and--coming soon--a new set of blog posts, mostly about the peace of God and the joy of the Lord and the face of Christ and the strength to face anything. You'll find the new website now at www.gloryintheface.com.
Jul18SatJuly 18, 2015
I offended a woman, one Sunday morning, years ago now, by a sermon I preached on the topic of obedience to God. She met with me that week to explain her offence. “The way you spoke about God expecting us to obey him makes me feel as if God thinks of me as his dog.” She was very plainly a woman who believed in Jesus and I was young and very plainly not slow to speak. “It’s actually more insulting than that, ma’am,” I replied. “God actually thinks of you as a sheep. Thinking of you as a dog would be a promotion.” That was a long time ago now, but as I recall, the woman didn’t find my reply helpful, except in confirming her decision to find a church with a less offensive, more affirming preacher. But I stand by what I said, both in the sermon and in the conversation it provoked. Our great God is not a great promotor of self-esteem.
Along the same lines, there is a built-in blow to egos everywhere in the comforting words of Jesus by which he invites us to receive from him rest from our burdens.
“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 ESV)
Very often, this yoke is understood as a metaphor depicting the Lord's people as oxen. When I was young and not shy about sounding dogmatic, I taught people to think of these words as our invitation to harness ourselves, so to speak, to Jesus himself. With Jesus as our gentle yoke-partner, and with the yoke being easy, our burden would turn out to be light and we would find rest. Thinking of ourselves as so many oxen did not seem to me to be flattering, but in picturing Jesus as our lowly-hearted fellow-ox, it didn’t seem very insulting either. But as in the Case of the Leaving Lady of Offence, I now think what the metaphor implies is more insulting than that.
From cover to cover, the Bible uses a yoke as a symbol of slavery. The God of Israel says to his people, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.” (Leviticus 26:13 ESV) The Apostle Paul wrote very plainly, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 ESV)
Here and in almost every other biblical instance, a metaphoric mention of a yoke pictures people as slaves serving a master, not beasts of burden harnessed to each other. Whether or not that interpretation makes the implications more insulting, it does brings us back to the topic of obeying God. Jesus spoke of our service to God very specifically. “When you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”(Luke 17:7-10 ESV) Having signed on as servants of Christ, we know what we should do: our duty. And taking and then keeping his yoke upon us, we know how we should do it: agreeably. Agreeably and gratefully! Compared to any other master we might serve, Jesus is gentle and lowly in heart. His yoke is comparatively easy and his burden is comparatively light. And so are the insulting implications of being considered a slave, whether or not being a slave seems more insulting than being an ox.
While we live our lives in this complicated world, we are not very free to determine many of the details. We all have our burdens and our challenges and our difficulties. Not very many of them are optional. In regard to them all, we are always serving somebody — or something. All of us are slaves of some sort. The comforting words of Jesus by which he invites us to see him as our Master and ourselves as his slaves offer us the best of all real-life possibilities. And the implications of being his slave are the least of all possible insults.