Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
After mom died in October 1973, my older brother and I entered our adult years rarely crossing paths. We simply couldn’t find common ground. He gave himself to psychology and philosophy with as much passion as I gave myself to the Lord. Early on, we ended up butting heads. Nearly every time we talked.
The two of us – well, it just didn’t work.
As much as we tried to connect, superficial was about the best we could do. Weather. Health. Family. Work. We always promised to talk soon. Always said we loved each other. But nothing ever came of it. And somehow years passed between us. For reasons of his own, he distanced himself from many in our family. He rarely came around. We’d see each other once, twice, a decade.
Until we entered our fifties.
We talked a little more. He came to some family events. The things that separated us didn’t seem to separate us as much. The bond between us was real and strong. He loved us – me, my dad, my sister Kate and our families.
And we loved him.
Surprisingly, he not only came to our dad’s 85th birthday party in January 2012 but he and his wife actually stayed with Erilynne and me at our home for a night. It may sound small, but it was big to us. And what concerned us most that night was his health. He wasn’t feeling well. He had all kinds of doctor appointments set up and – was I misreading him? – he looked scared.
So I called him more. He called me more.
Then the news came. On May 17th, the doctors said he had metastasized cancer and months – maybe a year or more – to live.
After that, we talked or texted every day.
“I want to talk Bible,” he said, not long after. “Where do we start?”
It took me my complete surprise. “How ‘bout tomorrow, late morning?” I asked, pushing him off.
“Cool,” he said back.
And immediately I felt this pit in the center of my stomach. I was scared this conversation would hurt our relationship. It would spark debate between us and we’d quickly fall back to old patterns of butting heads. Arguing. Building walls between each other and I didn’t want that. Not now, especially now.
How do I do this?
So the next day, I called him and admitted I was nervous. “I want to take this slowly, if you don’t mind, and if it doesn’t go well, let’s stop, okay?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “But I really want this.”
So off we went. “There’s one place we have to start,” I said, taking him to Matthew 11:25-26. “It’s a passage where Jesus prays to His Father and says, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.’ This is important,” I interjected. “He’s setting ground rules. This has nothing to do with how brilliant we are.”
“No, I get that,” he came back.
“It means we can’t, with our own minds, understand God. Or the Bible. We need His help. He reveals Himself – if we come to Him as little children. It may sound unfair. But He doesn’t care if we’re scholars or simple minded. People in the Third World, living in poverty, who have no access to universities, have as much access to Him as we do. That’s the story.”
He surprised me. He was all in.
“Agreed, I like it. Now keep going,” he insisted.
So I asked him what he thought of verse 28. He read it out loud, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden.” And he stopped. There was silence on the phone between us. I waited until he finally read, “for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” I heard him take a deep sigh and say, “I’ve never seen that before.”
And here we were. The two of us. At the hardest place of all.
“Gregor, this is it,” I said to him. “This is everything. It’s the entire Bible in just a few words. Can you see it?”
“I’m not sure.”
“From the beginning, God created us to be in relationship with Him. We messed up. That’s why He came. It’s why He went to the Cross -- to right our wrong – so He could look us in the eye and say, ‘Come to Me. Be in relationship with Me. Real, dynamic, intimate relationship.’ This is His heart for us.”
“Say more,” he pressed.
“You and me – we’re not coming to a philosophy. A theological doctrine. A worldview of some kind. We’re coming to God Almighty. We are coming to His Son. He wants us to know Him and love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. He wants this relationship with us. That’s the beauty of it.”
I stopped and said nothing more. Not then. I knew I had stepped on sacred ground. Nothing plagued my brother more in life than broken relationships. It had always been hard -- with women in the past. With his own family.
“You okay?” he asked, wondering why I stopped.
“Yeah, kind of,” I said honestly.
“Why, what’s up?”
Part of me didn’t want to go on. I didn’t want to tell him the next piece of the story – that is, if we step into this relationship with Him, He requires we step into relationship with each other. These two inseparable pieces are the exact reason I started writing devotions in First John. I knew, at the heart of John’s message, stood the Royal Law. That is, if we truly love God, if we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior, then we must – by God’s decree – love one another.
And if we don’t, John says we are liars and the truth is not in us (1 John 2:4).
In my world, especially in 2012, I witnessed great Christian leaders break from each other. Churches split apart. Marriages in Christ end in divorce. Long time Christian friends taking sides against each other. Things done, things said, that should never be named among those who belong to Jesus. But it was.
It is. Division in the Body of Christ – it’s everywhere. And I was just as much to blame. Even here – starting here – with my own brother.
So I told him everything.
Broken relationships in the church. Among pastors and leaders. Between churches right across the street from each other. Among Christian denominations who hold the same creedal faith in Christ.
The breaks in my own life.
“It’s not acceptable,” I said. “He doesn’t allow us to love Him and then refuse to make it real in the relationships in our lives. This is why I’m going through First John. It’s why I write devotions like I do. I believe with all my heart that He wants to take us to the place where Bible and life meet. Where what we say and how we live are one and the same. It doesn’t matter if we believe something is true. It matters whether it’s real in our lives. And if we’re going to say we love the Lord, then we have to do what He says and love each other with as much passion as He, in Christ, has loved us.”
“I agree,” he shot back quickly.
And then he surprised me – again.
“I want to do this with you,” he thundered.
“Yeah. You okay with that?”
“With all my heart,” I agreed. And suddenly, the two of us – well, it just worked. Runners in stride for the first time since the days of our youth.
“We should’ve done this a long time ago,” he said later.
And more than anything – in these days of his sickness – I wanted all those years back with decades more to come.
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