"Pastor Charlie Woodward", "Charlie Woodward"Pastor Charlie Woodward writes a daily devotion for the pandemic days until things are back to “normal,” whenever that may be. As the title states, we are in the wilderness alone, but we are still together. We may feel isolated and on our own. But we are in this together. I want to make sure we have an opportunity to stay connected. Each devotion will include a Bible verse, a brief reflection and prayer.  

Find a link to each day’s devotion below, or sign up here to receive the devotions to your inbox every morning. Choose the Devotions distribution list.

This is an opportunity for us to be present with each other in the days to come. You can be present by sharing your comments, insights, prayers and pictures in response to what Pastor Charlie shares in the coming days. For we are in this together. And where two or three are gathered in God’s name, God is present, too.

An Exact Fit

Matthew 11:25-30 

25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
 

A yoke is a horizontal wooden bar that is laid on the necks of oxen when they are harnessed to the plow or maybe to a cart. The Jewish community knew the yoke of Torah (the Old Testament law) when they submitted to the authority of the Lord. Again and again in the Old Testament, the yoke is a symbol of authority and taking a yoke upon us, a symbol of submitting to that authority.

But Jesus offers a different view of this image. I imagine Jesus working in his father’s carpentry shop before his ministry began. Together with Joseph, I imagine they made a few yokes for the local farmers over the years.  

A farmer comes to the shop and asks for a new yoke for his beasts of burden. To make sure the proper tool is crafted, the farmer brings the animals with him. He waits patiently under an olive tree until Jesus the carpenter takes the time to approach the animals slowly and gently, so as not to startle them. He carefully measures them – their height, their width, the space between them, the size of their shoulders. He works very slowly and carefully, taking his time until he is satisfied that he knows the animals well – knows where their strengths are – and where they might be vulnerable to pressure or too much weight. Then Jesus tells the man to return with his oxen in a week or so.

When the man returns, Jesus again approaches the oxen slowly and quietly. They have learned in such a short time to trust this gentle man. So, the animals allow Jesus to place the new yoke over their shoulders. He checks carefully for any roughness that might chafe or rub. Removing the yoke, he smooths out the edges. Again, he takes his time. It’s essential that the yoke fit perfectly if this team is to be able to do its work well. And so, when he is done, the yoke is an exact fit for this particular team of oxen.

Jesus invites us to come to him to find rest. But it seems a rather odd notion of rest, doesn’t it? He wants us to wear a yoke on our shoulders. Oh, he assures us that his yoke is easy. Yet somehow, the idea of wearing a yoke doesn’t sound all that easy to me. But if we look at the Greek word for “easy,” we find that it can also mean “well-fitting.”

When I think about something that fits well, I think of things like a comfortable pair of shoes, or a tailor-made suit. I think about harmonies that blend so delicately when a small group sings in perfect harmony. I think about the intricate balance of life on this planet, with everything created to fit in a particular place, in a particular way. I think about how God made each one of us, knitting us in our mothers’ wombs…making us to God’s exact specifications.

That is the fit Jesus is offering to you and to me.  
 

Let us Pray: 

Dear God, fit us for your service. We thank you that the ministry to which you call us yokes us together with your Son, Jesus Christ. Bless us in our service to you and to others. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


Happy Fourth!

Psalm 118:21-24

21 I thank you that you have answered me

    and have become my salvation.

22 The stone that the builders rejected

    has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord’s doing;

    it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 This is the day that the Lord has made;

    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

 

John 8:31-33

31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

 

Galatians 5:1a

For freedom Christ has set us free.
 

Happy Fourth of July! I picked readings for today for the holiday, and the promises of God we receive to live free. Free to worship God without fear. Free to live as God’s beloved. Free to experience the blessings God gives us. Free to enjoy the wonder of God’s creation.

For me, freedom and joy seem to go hand in hand.

A day that sums that up best for me is the day Lisa and I asked our good friends, Ingrid and Chip, to be the maid of honor and best man for our wedding.

Chip, Lisa and I drove up from Mount Pleasant (home of THE Central Michigan University) to Big Rapids, where Ingrid was going to school at the time. We planned a day of tubing down the Muskegon River. We picked up Ingrid and her car and drove to the church where Ingrid attended – they had inner tubes for people to borrow for the day.

We had a problem to solve. There were four of us, plus four tubes and two cars – a Pinto hatchback and a Chevy Chevette. Two VERY SMALL cars. How to make this work?

We needed to take the two cars, four tubes and four people to the starting point. Two people and four tubes were dropped off. Two people then drove the two cars to the end of the river and dropped off a car and returned to the starting point. We got in the tubes, floated down the river and had the most relaxing, enjoyable day.

Half way down the river, we decided to do it again.

So when we got to the end of the run, we got out of the river, and two people got in the one car, went back to the beginning of the river and picked up the second car, brought it back to the end of the river and picked up the four tubes and two people and then headed back to square one.

Oh my!

Yes, Ingrid and Chip accepted our invitation to be our maid of honor and best man. We give thanks to God for their friendship and support.

That day back in 1983 is a day I will never forget. We were free to enjoy the wonder of God’s creation with good friends and a lot of great memories.

It was a day the Lord had made, and we DID rejoice in it.

What are the days of freedom and joy that you cherish?

Thank God for them!

Let us Pray: 

Thank you for your blessings on us, and on our nation. May we never take the freedom you give us for granted. Thank you for today! In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen