Christianity 201

November 16, 2021

Being a Living Sacrifice: 5 Characteristics

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
  – Romans 12:1

“The problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to crawl off the altar.” – source unknown

Hopefully the opening verse of Romans 12 is a recurring theme in your reading and study. It reminds us that worship is something we do, but rather worship is something we are. Years ago, Christian musician Chris Christian wrote lyrics which offer a physical posture to indicate a surrendered heart and will:

We lift our voices
We lift our hands
We lift our lives up to You
We are an offering1

I really try to eschew pithy illustrations and stories here at C201, but I always find this one most appropriate:

A chicken and a pig were discussing how they could do something for the farmer. Finally the chicken said, “He loves a good breakfast; why don’t we give him bacon and eggs?”

To this the pig replied, “That’s easy for you to say. All it demands of you is an offering, but for me it demands total sacrifice.” 2

Here are some things I think will help us remember what it means to live our lives as a living sacrifice. Each starts with the letter ‘s’ followed by a different vowel.

Sacrifice

If we are to judge it, the measure of a sacrifice is not the size of what is given, but the size of what is left over.

A sacrifice will cost us and it will be consumed. There is no taking back the investment of our energies, gifts or material possessions given up in the service and pleasing of God. The last distinction is important. In service we see tangible results. But God is sometimes pleased by our giving up of things. Ask yourself: How much cash would you put on the offering plate if, as it was in Old Testament times, what was giving was then burned? That’s what our Old Testament predecessors did with the best of their grain and animals.

Set-Apartness

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 14:2 NLT

He gave himself to rescue us from everything evil and to make our hearts pure. He wanted us to be his own people and to be eager to do right. – Titus 2:14 CEV

In a world that values conformity, no one wants to be the odd duck. Yet the book of Leviticus is essentially God wanting to insure that his people could maintain a distinct identity. It was all about showing yourself to be different.3

Sinlessness

Jerry Bridges has written,

Jesus said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). We must honestly face the question, “Am I willing to give up a certain practice or habit that is keeping me from holiness?” It is at this point of commitment that most of us fail. We prefer to dally with sin, to try to play with it a little without getting too deeply involved. 4

Sovereignty

“There is a God. You are not Him,”

Many plans are in a person’s heart, but the LORD’s decree will prevail. – Proverbs 19:21 CSB

Jesus himself deferred to his Father on many occasions; providing us a reminder of who is in charge.

Surrender

When Abraham is asked to sacrifice is only son, we have the advantage that Abraham and Sarah didn’t; we know how the story ends. They did not, and yet Abraham is willing to do whatever it takes to obey God.5

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” – Genesis 22:2

Although we speak very different languages, two symbols are universal throughout the worldwide church. One is the word “Hallelujah” which I’m told is rendered the same in most languages. The other is lifted hands as a sign of surrender.

A writer at Charisma points out that our fingers, hands and arms are also most associated with human strength, power, creativity; both in a human sense and if we examine the Biblical record of God’s actions presented in a way we can best understand them. 6

 


1 Full video at YouTube.

2 This story is often used by leadership coaches as well. Here’s a longer version with the punchline contrasting contribution and commitment.

3 We looked at maintaining a distinct identity in this March, 2017 article.

4 We included more quotes from Jerry Bridges on this topic in this article.

5 This is excerpted from a fuller look at Abraham’s trip up the mountain with Isaac at this link.

6 See the full article about lifting hands at this link.

October 18, 2021

The Greatest Gift God Gave was Passive, Not Active

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. – I John 3:16

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” – John 10: 17a-18

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:13

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! – Philippians 2:8; all references NIV

 

Six months ago, I shared an excerpt from the debut release of a new author, Tyler Staton, titled Searching for Enough: The High-Wire Walk Between Faith and Doubt (Zondervan, 2021.) I was finally able to get a copy for myself, and recently posted a review at Thinking Out Loud.

Here is another excerpt from the book which really got me thinking. He begins with a quote from Ronald Rolheiser:

Jesus gave his life for us in one way, through his activity; he gave his death for us in another way, through his passivity, his passion.

Then Tyler continues…

Typically, when people speak of the “passion of Jesus Christ,” they are intending to make much of the brutal suffering. They’re making a summary reference to whips that bring one to the brink of death but stop just short, forcing breath to keep flowing through a body that can no longer be called human. They’re peaking of a body that can no longer be called human. They’re speaking of ruthless soldiers making evening plans while forcing thick iron nails through the wrists and feet of an innocent man. They’re speaking of a spear just under the rib cage when the dying is dragging on so long that boredom is setting in. Make no mistake, Jesus’ death was brutal, but the brutality of the way he died was not his passion; the passion of Jesus Christ was his free choice to die.

Rolheiser explains: “The English word passion takes its root in the Latin passio, meaning ‘passivity,’ and that is its primary connotation here: what the passion narratives describe for us is Jesus’ passivity. He gives his death to us through his passivity, just as he had previously given his life to us through his activity.”

For thirty-three years, Jesus gave us his activity, his life. He was always active, always doing–teaching, healing, advocating, feeding, freeing, including, comforting, noticing, inviting, hoping, instructing, loving.

His final twenty-four hours represented a distinct shift, obvious to every close observer. Beginning with his arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus gave us his passivity, his death. Every gospel author’s description of Jesus takes an obvious grammatical turn at that point–all the verbs become passive. He is led away. His questioned. He is tortured. He is whipped. He is mocked. He is provided help in carrying his cross. He is nailed to it.

He is no longer doing; he is allowing to be done. He is no longer acting; he is being acted upon.

When people question God, it’s always related to his activity. What was God doing when that happened to me? Where was God when I really needed help? How could a loving God willingly allow this in my life [or her life or his life or our lives]? Why did God act in this way? Why didn’t God act in this way?

As people who often demand more action, more doing from God, this simple fact is worth consideration: The greatest gift God ever gave us was his passivity, not his activity; his restraint, not his action. It was his willingness to be acted on without intervention. It was his chosen powerlessness, not his power. It was not his doing, but his allowing. It is the passivity of God that is most revealing of his character. In Jesus’ passion he gave us a gift we could not receive by his action.

Mark’s account includes the reaction of the centurion, the Roman army commander who oversaw the execution. When the last breath left Jesus’ body, when the gift of love was completely given through divine restraint, the centurion said aloud, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

This Jewish rabbi had walked all over the Roman Empire for three years, healing the sick, causing the paralyzed to stand, giving sight to the blind, straightening the backs of the disfigured, cleansing the skin of lepers, restoring the minds of the insane, and even raising the dead, but none of that looked like God to those in power. Somehow what they had missed in his power they saw in his restraint.

The centurion recognized the divine bloodline in Jesus by his weakness, not his strength; his surrender, not his victory; his death, not his life; his love, not his power. There was something otherworldly, something wondrous, about the way he willingly gave up his life.

(Searching for Enough, pp 155-156)


Learn more about the book at zondervan.com

Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for the opportunity to reprint these excerpts. Books is ©2021 by Tyler Staton. Used by permission.

October 10, 2021

Jesus and the Rich Young Yuppie

Today we’re introducing you to Rev. Taylor Mertins  who writes at Think and Let Think, has co-authored three books, and hosts the Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast. Clicking the header which follows will get you direct access to today’s devotional, along with a Lego image of the ‘sorrowful’ young man who walks away from Jesus.

Jesus And The Yuppie

Mark 10.17

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

Jesus is doing his Jesus-thing, teaching about the upside down nature of the kingdom, when a yuppie shows up and asks about the requirements for salvation.

We only know what we know about this particular character based on what scripture tells us, and his story is a cautionary tale (and a beloved one among preachers).

Notice – the rich young man is already a success story in the eyes of the world: he’s a winner.

But he wants more.

What could drive someone to such a desire? Surely none of us know of such thirst and such hunger for more.

Robert Farrar Capon, in his seminal work on the parables, imagines the innermost thoughts of this yuppie with Jesus like this:

“Oh yes, I have had what once I would have called success. I moved the vices out of the city into a chain of reconditioned lighthouses. I introduced statistical methods in the Liberal Arts. I revived the country dances and installed electric stoves in the mountain cottages. I saved democracy by buying steel… But the world is not better and it is now quite clear to me that there is nothing to be done with such a ship of fools adrift on a sugarloaf sea in which it is going very soon and suitably to founder. Deliver me, dear Teacher, from the tantrums of my telephones and the whisper of my secretaries… deliver me from these helpless agglomerations of disheveled creatures with their bed-wetting, vomiting, weeping bodies, their giggling, fugitive, disappointing hearts, and their scrawling, blotted, misspelled minds, to whom I have so foolishly tried to bring the light they do not want… translate me, bright Angel, from this hell of inert and ailing matter, growing steadily senile in a time forever immature, to that blessed realm, so far above the twelve impertinent winds and the four unreliable seasons, that Heaven of the Really General Case where, tortured no longer by three dimensions and immune to temporal vertigo, Life turns into Light, absorbed for good into the permanently stationary, completely self-sufficient, absolutely reasonable One.” (Capon, The Parables of Judgment, 42).

The yuppie certainly has a problem: he is a winner who cannot fathom, whatsoever, the end of his winning. He is positively bewitched by the idea that there are no limits to what he can achieve by his own power.

Jesus responds by adding insult to injury and gives the man an impossible list of goals to achieve, namely the Ten Commandments. But the yuppie assures the Good Lord that he is, was, and forever will be perfect in the eyes of the Law.

And then, as Mark puts it, Jesus looks at the young man, loves him, and says something like, “Okay hotshot. There’s only one thing left for you to do: sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Hopefully removing all your winnings will free you to see that the only real way to win is by losing, the only way to be great is to be the least, the only way to live is to die.”

But the yuppie walks away sad, because he has many possessions.

And yet, here’s the really sad part: the yuppie walked away from the only really good news he would ever hear. Because all of that winning, in whatever form it took (material, moral, or even spiritual success) would eventually pass away like the wind in his death.

Or, as Jesus puts it, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

The rich young man couldn’t stand the thought of being a loser. But Jesus saves sinners (losers) and only sinners.

In the strange new world of the Bible, only the winners lose because only the losers can win – that’s how reconciliation works. If winning could’ve saved the world we would’ve done it a long time ago. Evil cannot be destroyed by moral score-keeping. The only way to save the world is to do what God did – by taking evil out of the world by taking it into himself in Jesus, nailing it to the cross, and leaving it there forever.

What must we do to inherit eternal life? Well, nothing. Nothing because, we can’t save ourselves.

But, thankfully, Jesus is in the business of making something of our nothing.

May 14, 2021

The Gift or the Altar on Which it is Placed?

Matthew 23:19, NLT: “How blind! For which is more important–the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred?”

Two devotional sources for you today; and three readings in total. First…

My investigation into Matthew 23:19 began in March with a devotional from Magnficent Life Ministries which I had bookmarked to return to. They post insightful thoughts on a daily basis from their offices in California. Click the next line to read this at their site.

Which is More Important?

“Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?” Mathew 23:19

Jesus threw a question at the scribes and Pharisees for their misconception about the altar and the gift on the altar. Have you thought about such a question for a moment? Or have you ever related this to your life? If yes, then I would like to invite you to read today’s devotion with full attention. It is a great opportunity to learn who we are and how to present ourselves to God.

The same way the altar is important, so also the gift, but not as much. About ourselves, it means we are the carrier of the altar, and the gift is God’s riches in our possession. When the gifts are presented to God, they might be rejected or accepted not because the gift is bad or good, but the presenter of the gift that serves as the altar’s carrier is more important than the gift itself.

Genesis 4:7 says, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you refuse to do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires you, but you must master it.”

We can see from the scriptures how God accepted Abel and his offering but rejected Cain and his offering. Genesis 4: (Read the middle verse of today’s devotion Gen. 4:7 as God’s response to Cain). The bible also clarifies this in Romans 12:1, the more we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, the more our relationship with him becomes deeper than before.

Beloved, thousands and millions present their case before God every second, but it has always been rejected. The creator has not found them worthy of acceptance, not to talk of accepting their gifts, because their life does not reflect the true altar, Christ Jesus. Therefore, we must present our body as a living sacrifice for the sake of God. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own”

Prayer
1. Psalm 19:14-Father, I present my body as a living sacrifice unto you, making it acceptable in thy sight O lord
2. I receive the grace to set priorities towards the weightiest matters of this kingdom in Jesus’ name. Amen


I decided to check out one more source for you. BibleRef.com is unique in that in addition to providing commentary on the verse in question, each page displays an overview of the verse context, along with an overview of the whole chapter. You need to click the header that follows to see what I mean.

What does Matthew 23:19 mean?

Jesus has called the scribes and Pharisees blind guides (Matthew 23:16), blind fools (Matthew 23:17), and now simply calls them blind. Their ranking of some oaths as binding and others as non-binding shows their complete lack of understanding about what belongs to God and what it means to swear an oath (Matthew 23:13–15).

Using a traditional scheme of loopholes and technicalities, these religious leaders have declared that swearing by the gold of the temple or swearing by the sacrifice on an altar requires a person to keep their word. In contrast, they say, swearing by the temple or altar themselves is somehow non-binding. Jesus has pointed out that the temple that makes the gold sacred, just as the altar makes the sacrifice sacred. The scribes and Pharisees, of all people, should understand that all these things come from God and belong to God. These supposedly learned men don’t have any basis to declare one sacred and another not.

While not stated directly, this “woe” also underscores Jesus’ prior criticism of using oaths to enhance a promise. Why encourage anyone to take an oath, to swear by something sacred, for any reason? Why not just teach people to keep their plain word when they say “yes” or “no.” Anything more than that, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, comes from evil (Matthew 5:33–37).


Bonus Devotional

I decided to share today’s item from Magnificent Life Ministries with you as well, even though it’s a different topic. I hope you’ll bookmark this site and visit often, or if you want a shorter devotional (than what we do here) for another part of your day, subscribe. Click the header below to read at source.

Contentment!

“Of course, godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6

More is never enough, seeming to be the motto for life in this world. You have seen it and probably felt it too. The world philosophy as related to things is, “If I can afford it, get it; and if I can’t afford it, charge it!” This craving for possessions (especially things we don’t need) has resulted in too many ruined lives, devastated families, and a vulnerable nation.

God has a better idea. He calls His people to godly lifestyles. In this passage, Paul coupled the call to live in godliness with the spirit of contentment. Ultimate satisfaction and sufficiency can only be attained by abiding in Christ. He alone is the all-sufficient One. When godliness and contentment are wedded in the hearts of God’s people, blessings abound. However, godliness without contention is dangerous to our health, happiness, and well-being.

Proverbs 28:25 says, “The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the LORD will prosper.”

Do not seek what the world has to offer, for it is never enough—and it will never lead to true contentment. All of those things are not real as they were; the devil has just made it seems genuine in people’s sight. Until we recognize that true riches and inheritance are not in this world, humankind might not stop chasing the world and won’t be contended.

Seek the God of heaven, and seek to further His kingdom on earth. Allow Him to develop His character inside you as you find your sufficiency in Him. Focus your attention on the pursuit of the “mystery of godliness” that Paul described (1 Tim. 3:16) rather than on the pursuit of all the “stuff” that the world holds valuable. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He, Himself, has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Prayer:
1. Father, help me truly know who You are and find true contentment in my relationship with You.
2. Psalm 119:36: Oh Lord, “Turn my heart to Your testimonies and not to covetous gain.” in Jesus’ name.

 

March 30, 2021

Jonah’s First Converts and Easter Atonement

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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In the very popular children’s resource, The Jesus Storybook Bible author Sally Lloyd-Jones illustrates that many of the best-known narratives from the Hebrew Bible are foreshadowing the coming of a Savior. Not surprisingly, the book is subtitled, “Every Story Whispers His Name.”

This is true even more so for the book of Jonah, as Jesus himself make a direct connection between the prophet’s three days in the air chamber of a great fish, and his own three days in the tomb before resurrection.

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
– Matthew 12:40 (all scriptures NIV except as noted)

Who were Jonah’s first converts? We don’t know anything about their spiritual history from the text in Jonah chapter one, but we know that after Jonah is tossed overboard,

At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. (v16)

In other words, Jonah’s first decisive act on the way to Nineveh (or technically, at this stage, on the way to avoid Nineveh) ends in the ship’s crew making an offering and prayers.  (Sidebar: As with much of the Old Testament, we see a collective spiritual response on behalf of the crew as a whole, there isn’t the emphasis on personal response that we have today, though it can certainly be inferred.)

To repeat, the first revival meeting Jonah sets in motion is in the hearts of the crew, a long time before reaching his originally requested destination.

A few other things are worth noting here.

First, the responsibility for the situation is placed on Jonah, just as the weight or burden of our sin is placed on Jesus.

The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (v11-12)

The Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53:6 reads,

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Peter directly refers to this passage in 1 Peter 2:24,

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed

The men in Jonah’s story resist the prophet’s suggested solution to their dilemma. They don’t want to be responsible for taking a life. In the same way, Peter — yes, the same Peter who we just quoted — seeks an alternative solution.

Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:21-22)

and again we read that at the moment of Jesus being arrested,

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (John 18:10)

Jonah’s nautical crew are filled with remorse at the necessary action they take:

Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.”

In the Jesus narrative, Pilate sees the innocence of Jesus and wants no part in his death,

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” (Matthew 27:24)

The Roman Centurion acknowledges who Jesus really is,

The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 NLT)

The Jonah narrative continues,

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.

The idea of throwing Jonah overboard was Jonah’s idea.

Similarly, the idea of Jesus giving his life was the plan all along.

And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.” (Luke 24:46 NLT)

(Bible scholars tell us that the beginning of God’s redemptive plan can be traced all the way back to Genesis 3.)

Jesus offers up his life willingly, just as Jonah offered himself up as a sacrifice so the men on the ship could be saved.

There are probably many other parallels I missed. I didn’t consult commentaries for this one, but simply responded to the text as I was reading. Clearly God is preparing the hearts of the people living under the first covenant for what will occur in the new covenant…

…So who were Jonah’s next converts? You might say the next great spiritual awakening happens in the heart of Jonah himself, but for that, you’ll have to read chapter two.

 

 

 

March 1, 2021

The Test of Faith Was Both Abraham’s and Isaac’s

Could a familiar Biblical narrative had played out differently? We often consider the faith it took Abraham to be obedient to a horrid request, a demand concerning the child of promise given to him and Sarah. But Isaac was old enough that he could have rewritten the ending…

If you’re unfamiliar with Abraham’s test of faith in Genesis 22, click this link to read it in the Common English Bible (CEB).

by Ruth Wilkinson

Why did it have to be at the top of a mountain on a hot day, carrying all that wood?
His father wasn’t young anymore (had he ever been?) so Isaac took the load of wood himself.
Abraham went ahead, finding the path, carrying the fire for the altar. This was a long, long way
to come to make a sacrifice.

Isaac had seen his father make sacrifices to his god before, and it was always the same.
He’d build an altar, stone on stone ‘till it was right,
lay it with wood – first the tinder, then the kindling, then the fuel.
He’d choose the very best lamb he could find,
sometimes that took hours, talking to the shepherds, looking at hooves and skin.
If he couldn’t find the one he wanted, he’d buy one from a neighbour. That could take a day or two.

Once he’d found the one he wanted, he’d tie its legs with rope, lay it on the altar.
He’d cut the lamb’s throat quickly so it wouldn’t suffer and light the fire.
A complete waste, except it wasn’t.
It was a gift, a symbol of how nothing was more important to Abraham than his god.

But this one was different, not only the journey, but especially the fact that there was no lamb.
Abraham was always so picky about choosing just the right one, surely he didn’t expect it to
just be waiting there for him at the top.
Isaac had asked about that, but Abraham didn’t really answer,
so he dropped it.

Abraham was unusually quiet.
Anytime they’d sat or eaten or traveled together Abraham was full of stories
the time he’d tried to trick Pharaoh and his God had ratted him out,
the time he’d gone to war to rescue Uncle Lot and his God had given him victory,
the time his god had wiped a couple of entire cities off the earth,

and over and over and over again, the story of the son, the only son, the son their God had
given them, the son they loved, their miracle son.
The first star in his father’s sky of children and children’s children and
children’s children’s children.

Isaac had heard volumes about Abraham’s god. Sarah’s god.
But not today.

Today he was lugging a load of wood up a mountain, eyes on where he was putting his feet,
glancing at his father’s back.

Lots of time to think.
This god of his father’s was a strange one as gods went.
He didn’t seem to follow the same rules.
The other gods, the ones that ruled the lands around them, the ones that came into the family
compound with slaves from other places…
The other gods were tied to one particular nation or tribe or family. This one seemed to be
everywhere, involved with anybody he chose.
Isaac wasn’t sure whether he went ahead, or if he was following Abraham, but he had been
everywhere.

The other gods were distant and people did extravagant things to get their attention…
shouting, dancing, extreme sacrifices – even killing their own children to get their noticed.
His father’s god seemed to be waiting around every corner,
with something to say,
to ask,
something to offer
– kind of like Abraham was with Isaac.

But Isaac had never heard the voice his father heard.
Everything he knew, he’d learned from his parents’ lives and stories.
He’d lived his whole life from before he could remember by the words and ways
of his father’s god.

Abraham stopped walking. He looked around and said,
“We’re here.”
He told Isaac to sit down and have a drink while he built the altar.

Stone on stone ‘till it was right,

Then, he opened the bag of tinder,
untied the rope that held the bundle of wood,
arranged the altar, – tinder first, then kindling, then fuel.

He stood still, looking at it.

Isaac said, “Perfect! Now all we need is the lamb.”

There was a long silence. Abraham trembled, sat down beside his son, his only son,
the son his god had given him, the son he loved, his miracle son
the first star in his sky of children and children’s children and
children’s children’s children and told him about the lamb.
What he said cut Isaac open like no knife ever could.

Isaac was to be the lamb.

No.
That can’t be right.
All his life he’d been told how special he was.
His life was a miracle, an answered prayer, a promise kept.
He couldn’t die now!
It was too soon!
That can’t be right.
No.

His father was old, confused. Isaac was stronger, he could take him, maybe tie him up with the rope from the wood and get him home somehow. (On the donkey. That would work.)

To Sarah. Sarah would know what to do.
Isaac snatched up the rope, jumped to his feet ready for anything and in that moment,
he heard it.

He heard the voice – whispering somewhere inside him, behind him.
Whispering his name
“Isaac”

The whisper took over his heart and his mind and whispered to him in that split second every story his father had ever told him.

Every step of his father’s journey,
every promise made and kept,
every tear,
every laugh,
every surprise,
every demand,
every moment of forgiveness and starting over again and redemption.
Every star in his father’s sky.

And in that moment, Isaac knew he had a choice to make. A line to cross.

He had lived his entire life from before he could remember by the words and ways of his father’s god and
now
now
now he had to decide whether this god was his own.
Isaac had to choose.


“All the nations of the earth will be blessed because of your descendants, because you obeyed me” (God, v18)

April 26, 2020

The Sacrifice Industry

My wife has been busy uploading fresh content each week for the church’s YouTube channel. They aim to have four new elements each week; she does a short devotional video and a song video; and the pastor does a short sermon and one of his pre-lockdown messages which has never been uploaded before is added to their channel.

She asked me if I would consider doing a devotional. It wasn’t something I had ever considered.

I think it’s important not to try to take on the mantle of deep theological exposition, but rather, to begin with (a) what you know or (b) what you’ve experienced.

One passage which has always stood out to me is Hebrews 10: 11-12.

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God  NIV

In other words, these actions had to be performed on a repeated basis, as seen in contrast to Christ’s ‘once for all’ sacrifice.

It’s hard to read this, with its vivid description of priests performing the same sacrifices on a recurring basis and not think of the time Jesus intersected directly with those facilitating worship in the scene we normally call, “Jesus cleanses the temple;” or perhaps a progressive translation might use the header, “Jesus throws a fit.” It’s not pretty. He was truly going up against a “sacrifice industry.”

The story is told in all four gospel accounts. (4 links provided for those who wish to compare.) The synoptics place this toward the end of the story, while John places it in chapter two. Does this mean this happened more than once? Some Bible scholars say yes, others say that John wanted to introduce the story earlier to demonstrate the “clout” or “authority” with which Jesus ministered.

I mentioned in the video I recorded that among the other things we do, my wife and I own a Christian bookstore. Many of these sprang out of what were called ‘Christian supply stores’ with a variety of materials for sale to facilitate worship. Today, the focus is more on books and music, but a few vestiges of those days remain, and one staple for the last 50 years, has been disposable communion cups.

They come in a box of 1,000 which sells for $19.99 U.S. That means that every time a church of 100 people has a communion service, the store made a $2.00 sale. For a church of 50 people, that would be $1.00. Not exactly high finance. [Not that I’m letting the Christian publishing industry off the hook; there are other stories to be told, like VBS which is a multi-million dollar industry just in itself.]

However, what was going on in the temple was closer to robbery. Most people who grew up in the story know this it as “Jesus vs. The Money-changers.” If you’ve ever traveled, you know all about currency exchange. In this case, visitors who came a great distance, and weren’t able to bring a lamb with them would buy one, only after converting their money to temple currency.

But what about the people who lived more locally and were able to bring a lamb with them? Were they equally ripped off?

The lambs were supposed to be without spot, wrinkle or blemish. I recently heard that those in charge would at those lambs and find them to be somewhat lacking. They’d smile and say, “But we have one which is perfect we’ll sell you instead.” I don’t know how much give-and-take happened at this stage, since the families would have chosen their lamb with great care, but eventually, weary from travel and up against a system they couldn’t fight, they would cave in.

But later, the lamb that they bought — which wasn’t deficient — would be sold to someone else.

The spotless lamb of course is a type of Jesus, who was without sin.

[Pardon me for one brief tangent: If you grew up in church you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘without spot, blemish or wrinkle’ used in reference to the church. How does the description switch to us when it’s supposed to be about Him? The answer is that this is what it means when God imputes to us the righteousness of Christ. The phrase occurs in Ephesians 5:27 and is referring to sanctification. We now return to our devotional, in progress.]

So Jesus does what Jesus does, and he clears the temple in what is called a prophetic act. The whole system, or to use the language I’m using today, the whole sacrifice industry is about to come to an end, and (in the synoptic accounts, speaking just later) Jesus says as much when he says, “It is finished.”

And then in the economy of the language used in the Book of Hebrews, we’re reminded that this ended in him sitting “in the place of honor” (NLT) at God’s right hand.


In the video, I said that would normally be the end of the story, but it occurred to me that YouTube being what it is there are people who have never come under the covering of what Jesus did, and I encouraged them to contact the church hosting the video.

Of course, the internet being what it is, there may be people reading this here who have never asked God to include them under the covering of his sacrifice. If that’s the case, use the contact form (lower part of the page) here so we can help you discern the next steps you need to take.

 

 

 

 

February 26, 2020

You Can’t Have a Song Written Without a Life Lived

Yesterday at this time, I was reading the “musings” of songwriter and recording artist Lynn DeShazo who wrote the worship song, “More Precious Than Silver.” What follows are partial excerpts from four different articles she wrote last year about the 40th anniversary of that song, which you can locate at the link in the title below.

Note: Because the full original articles are also interwoven with insights into Lynn’s life which are key to the story, you are strongly encouraged to click the link and read all four parts of this reflection at source.

More Precious Than Silver

…Forty years! Sounds biblical, doesn’t it? Periods of forty years and forty days are found throughout the Scriptures. So when I realized that a significant milestone was approaching in my life, the fortieth anniversary of the creation of “More Precious Than Silver,” it got me thinking.

The Bible is full of instances where our fathers in the faith built altars of stone to mark life-changing encounters with God. In years to come, they would revisit these altars and recall to mind the faithfulness of the Almighty in their lives. They used these memorials to pass on their legacy of faith to their children. An anniversary is a bit like a memorial stone. It marks something significant and perhaps unique to you. It says, “Hey! This event happened here in this place, at that time, and it made a lasting impact on my life.” Here then is my memorial stone, my “Ebenezer raised,” as I reflect on what writing “More Precious Than Silver” has meant to me.

Every creative effort has a beginning. You sit down with your instrument and a pad of paper, or a laptop computer. You hum a melody, strum a chord, or pick out a tune on the piano. Sometimes a song takes shape effortlessly, but usually there’s a struggle involved in the creative process. Every baby born comes into the world with a degree of pain and struggle, some more than others. I think it’s the same with a song. I also think that long before there’s such a creative expression as a song written, there’s a life lived…

…God spoke very clearly to me one night following a powerful message preached at our campus church. He asked me to give up my guitar and, by implication, everything that went along with it – writing and performing my own songs. This was a difficult thing for me to hear and very painful to actually do, but thank God, I found the grace to obey Him. At the close of the meeting, I tearfully handed my guitar over to my pastor for safekeeping (something I freely chose to do), and I did not touch it again for months. As I cooperated with God’s work in me, my spiritual foundation repair began. I learned to trust in Jesus alone for my right standing with God. My striving to please began to give way to restful trust in His love for me. God had big plans for me, but the right foundation had to be in place for Him to build them upon.

Once a field is plowed sufficiently, the farmer stops plowing and starts sowing seed. In like manner, the difficult seasons of God’s dealings with us only go on until He accomplishes His intention. My season of not playing guitar and writing songs did not go on forever. It only lasted until God was satisfied that my spiritual foundation was solidly upon Christ alone. Now He was ready to build upon that foundation, and I began to walk into His purpose for my life…

…When God spoke to me about laying down my guitar, I had a decision to make. My music was very important to me – almost all the self-esteem I could muster up came from being able to play my music “for the Lord.” How could God possibly take that away from me? I chose to trust Him, but it was still difficult.

Putting selfish flesh to death is a hard business and, let’s face it, dying flesh stinks. In ancient times, fragrant spices were used to prepare bodies for burial in order to mask the stench of death as a body decomposed. When Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross, myrrh was one of the spices used to prepare His body for burial (see John 19:39-40). Myrrh is also one of the spices used in the anointing oil of the tabernacle worship. One of the blessings of the Holy Spirit coming into our lives is that He works to mask the stench of our dying flesh as we learn take up our cross and follow Jesus. We begin to produce the fragrance of the Christ within us, even in the midst of our “dying.” (See II Corinthians 2:14-16)

Jesus, speaking of His own imminent death, said, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Before a single grain of wheat can produce a stalk bearing multiple grains, it must first go into the ground where it dies. Its hard exterior is softened through a process hidden from view until the germ of life within is finally able to sprout up through the soil. The tender green shoot is the first sign of the harvest to come…

…Music has a natural power to lift your mood, but it’s the anointing* that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27). So how is it that some ministers have such an evident and consistent anointing flowing to people through what they do, whether it’s preaching, leading worship, counseling, or you name it? I believe it is because of a significant spiritual sacrifice made by that person before the Lord, and a firm commitment to obey Him in every season and circumstance of life.

God called Abraham to Mt. Moriah and required him to sacrifice that which was most precious to him, his son Isaac (See Genesis 22). Thankfully, it was only a test of Abraham’s faith. Isaac’s too, for that matter. But you must understand that Abraham’s test was a foreshadowing of what our Father in heaven would do in giving His only Son as a sacrifice for sin. Now, anywhere in the world that the Gospel is preached, there is an anointing upon the message for people to believe and be saved. Why? Because there’s an anointing at the place of sacrifice, and that place is the Cross of Jesus.

Every believer in Jesus Christ who desires to be a fruitful disciple must come to the Cross, to the place of total surrender to Him and be willing to be made a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). We are called to obedience, and God will test that in every one of us. Will we live by the strength of our own will, or out of obedience to His will for us?


*Read the entire (4th) section of the article where Lynn defines ‘anointing’ quite clearly at this link.

February 24, 2019

Worship Should be the Moment-to-Moment Practice of our Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We’ve introduced well over a thousand different writers here, but our Sunday Worship feature has helped me personally to keep finding so many great writers online. Michael Wilson, who writes at Mustard Seed Faith is originally from Virginia, and now lives in Changchun, China. I encourage you to click the title below and read this at source, complete with pictures. Then take some time to look around the rest of the blog.

How do You Worship God?

Is worship learned or is it something that you just do naturally? Does it require a certain feeling or emotional state? How do you worship God?

By worship, we assume you are referring to the practice of Christians singing praise music during a church service. Obviously, worship is a much broader concept than this narrow definition, but many Christians have come to see worship in this limited context.

Scripture, on the other hand, defines worship as obedience. For example, Paul defines worship this way:

Romans 12:1 (NKJV)

Living Sacrifices to God

12 I beseech (urge) you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable (rational & Spiritual) service.

Notice that Paul doesn’t define worship as having anything to do with a mood or a feeling. It certainly isn’t focused on singing or music at all. These types of “worship” are merely outward expressions of our faith and love for God, and though they may have some value, they are not the substance of true worship. True worship is obedience to God through His Spirit and His word.  How do You Worship God

Furthermore, our feelings and mood are counterproductive when trying to establish appropriate worship practices. Instead, we are called to praise and worship the Lord despite our circumstances. For example, Paul praised the Lord for hours after receiving a beating and while chained in a dark jail cell (see Acts 16). If worship were conditioned on emotion and feelings, Paul would never have found a reason to praise God. Similarly, the writer of Hebrews instructed:

Hebrews 13:15 (NKJV)

15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

Our understanding of praise or worship shouldn’t be merely a form of musical celebration contingent on having the right mood or emotion. The Bible says true worship and praise is rooted in a life of obedience and is a continual activity.

We can find a good example of this distinction in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. The prophet Samuel admonished King Saul with these words:

1 Samuel 15:22 (NKJV)

22 So Samuel said:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.

Worship in that day took the form of burnt offerings and sacrifices given in the temple, and Samuel asks the King is it better to perform worship (i.e., to offer the sin sacrifices in the temple) or to obey the Lord? The answer is clear: it is better to obey God than to offer Him sacrifices. God’s first and highest desire for His people is that we obey Him. If we fail to obey Him but come to “praise” Him in “worship,” we are hypocrites.

Israel was once guilty of approaching God in worship with hearts that did not obey Him, and about those people, the Lord said through Isaiah:

Isaiah 29:13-14 (NKJV)

13 Therefore the Lord said:

“Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths
And honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,
14 Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work
Among this people,
A marvelous work and a wonder;
For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”

God promises a great judgment against Israel for their conceit and hypocrisy.

Likewise, we today must be aware that how we spend our time singing or praising God’s name in a worship service is important only if it is preceded by a life of obedience and service to Him.

If a believer is living a holy and sanctified life in obedience to the Spirit and the word of God, then such a person is also likely to find it easy to express their love and praise for God in a worship service, just as they do on a continual basis outside the church building. Their praise will come naturally from the Spirit’s leading.

Conversely, if a Christian is not accustomed to walking with the Spirit and seeking God’s counsel in His word and if they don’t make a practice of worshipping as a daily (if not hourly) activity, then they will find any expression of worship difficult, including the kind that takes place on Sunday morning.

There is nothing magical about worship (setting aside supernatural manifestations of Spirit) because it should be the moment-to-moment practice of our life. When we attend a church service, we don’t come to “worship.” According to Scripture, we gather together for the purpose of serving and encouraging one another, learning God’s word, and lending our voices to public confession, prayer and praise of God. These activities are made meaningful to God when they are done in a true heart that desires to know and obey God through His word. Taken together, this is true worship.


“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”

 

November 12, 2017

Sunday Worship

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
  – Romans 12:1

“The problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to crawl off the altar.”

Today we return to a recurring theme verse here at Sunday Worship. It reminds us that worship is something we do, but rather worship is something we are. Years ago, Christian musician Chris Christian wrote,

We lift our voices
We lift our hands
We lift our lives up to You
We are an offering1

I really try to eschew pithy illustrations and stories here at C201, but I find this one most appropriate:

A chicken and a pig were discussing how they could do something for the farmer. Finally the chicken said, “He loves a good breakfast; why don’t we give him bacon and eggs?”

To this the pig replied, “That’s easy for you. All it demands of you is an offering, but for me it demands total sacrifice.” 2

Here are some things I think will help us remember what it means to live our lives as a living sacrifice. Each starts with the letter ‘s’ followed by a different vowel.

Sacrifice

If we are to judge it, the measure of a sacrifice is not the size of what is given, but the size of what is left over.

A sacrifice will cost us and it will be consumed. There is no taking back the investment of our energies, gifts or material possessions given up in the service and pleasing of God. The last distinction is important. In service we see tangible results. But God is sometimes pleased by our giving up of things. Ask yourself: How much cash would you put on the offering plate if, as it was in Old Testament times, what was giving was then burned? That’s what our Old Testament predecessors did with the best of their grain and animals.

Set-Apartness

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

In a world that values conformity, no one wants to be the odd duck. Yet the book of Leviticus is essentially God wanting to insure that his people could maintain a distinct identity. It was all about showing yourself to be different.3

Sinlessness

Jerry Bridges has written,

Jesus said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). We must honestly face the question, “Am I willing to give up a certain practice or habit that is keeping me from holiness?” It is at this point of commitment that most of us fail. We prefer to dally with sin, to try to play with it a little without getting too deeply involved. 4

Sovereignty

“There is a God. You are not Him,”

Jesus himself deferred to his Father on many occasions; providing us a reminder of who is in charge.

Surrender

When Abraham is asked to sacrifice is only son, we have the advantage that Abraham and Sarah didn’t; we know how the story ends. They did not, and yet Abraham is willing to do whatever it takes to obey God.5

Although we speak very different languages, two symbols are universal throughout the worldwide church. One is the word “Hallelujah” which I’m told is rendered the same in most languages. The other is lifted hands as a sign of surrender.

A writer at Charisma points out that our fingers, hands and arms are also most associated with human strength, power, creativity; both in a human sense and if we examine the Biblical record of God’s actions presented in a way we can best understand them. 6

 


1 Full video at YouTube.

2 This story is often used by leadership coaches as well. Here’s a longer version with the punchline contrasting contribution and commitment.

3 We looked at maintaining a distinct identity in this March, 2017 article.

4 We included more quotes from Jerry Bridges on this topic in this article.

5 This is excerpted from a fuller look at Abraham’s trip up the mountain with Isaac at this link.

6 See the full article about lifting hands at this link.

August 20, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This is a writer who is new to us. Neil White, is a Lutheran (ELCA) Pastor, currently Senior Pastor for Rejoice Lutheran in Frisco, Texas. His blog is called Sign of the Rose. To read this at source, and then navigate to other articles, click the title below.

The Disconnect Between Worship and Obedience: Jeremiah 6: 15-21

15 They acted shamefully, they committed abomination;
yet they were not ashamed, they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the LORD.
16 Thus says the LORD: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, “We will not walk in it.”
17 Also I raised up sentinels for you: “Give heed to the sound of the trumpet!”
But they said, “We will not give heed.”
18 Therefore hear, O nations, and know, O congregation, what will happen to them.
19 Hear, O earth; I am going to bring disaster on this people,
the fruit of their schemes, because they have not given heed to my words;
and as for my teaching, they have rejected it.
20 Of what use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba, or sweet cane from a distant land?
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor are your sacrifices pleasing to me.
21 Therefore thus says the LORD:
See, I am laying before this people stumbling blocks against which they shall stumble;
parents and children together, neighbor and friend shall perish.

Apparently the reality that some people may be faithful church attenders while they live lives that are fundamentally out of touch with God’s desire for their lives is not a new reality. As Walter Brueggemann states:

In place of torah, Israel has substituted cultic action (Jer. 6:20-21): frankincense, cane, sacrifices. Israel has devised a form of religion that reflects affluence, which can be safely administered, and which brackets out all questions of obedience. (Brueggemann 1998, 73)

It is a nice, safe, easy religion that has allowed the people to slip into a sense of cultic complacency. So long as we have the temple and we keep bringing our offerings to God nothing will happen to us. This is the picture of gods that are common in the ancient world, that you bring pleasing offerings to the gods to entreat their favor and to get them fight for you in your battles, allow your crops to prosper, etc. But this is to fundamentally misunderstand the relationship God wants for God’s people.

It is not coincidence that the Old Testament prophets frequently rail against the sacrificial system (and Jesus also directly confronts the temple in his own day). The way things are will not continue indefinitely, God is speaking through the prophet. God is taking away the things that people have placed their trust in, and the temple and the priestly sacrificial system is one of these things.

November 26, 2015

Gulping Life’s Champagne

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Barenuckle Bible, the blog of John Myer. There are some great articles on this site, and if you’re looking for some good reading for the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend, click the title below, and then click the “Home” button and find more thoughts to chew on! (A connect-the-dots Thanksgiving and eating reference.)

If You’ve Lost Something for Christ, Your Moment is Coming; If You Haven’t, Your Moment is Still Coming

We follow Jesus by going where He goes.  But few people ever ask Him, “Where are you going?”  We assume He’s headed to financial abundance, good times, and of course at the very end of the trip, heaven.   The sign-up list bulges with names for that kind of journey.

That’s why it’s shocking when Jesus cradles your head in His hands and says straight into your face, “I must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matt. 16:21).

Talk about putting a damper on the whole Follow-Jesus thing.

His next statement equally unsettles us:  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).

These aren’t words I necessarily want to wear on a tee-shirt.  Yet, if we follow him, at both large and small crisis points we’ll be required to deny—say “No”—to ourselves.

Self-denial leads to taking up your cross.  The link between those two makes sense.  Some experiences of self-denial are going to be excruciating.    I’m talking about tears, the feeling of throwing your heart under a bus.

Our first reaction is to refuse with expletives, while fighting to save, to hold onto our lives.  Jesus adds, “Whoever would save his life will lose it” (Matt. 16:25).  Even if you persist in clutching what He was requiring you to lose, you’ll lose it anyway—Perhaps not only the thing itself, but your interest in it, the fulfillment, or the enjoyment of it.

Stories abound of people who have held onto things at great personal cost, and compromised their integrity and even their identity in order to do so.  Then having “saved” it, they quickly “lost” it.

One athlete revealed in an interview how he had made his sport the purpose of his life.  The day he established himself in the top echelon of it, the thrill of his victory suddenly reset to zero.  Regardless of the accolades that followed, he couldn’t shake the sense of depression and waste.  This always happens when we try to save something.  We are after all, lousy Saviors.

Then Jesus goes on to issue one of the most stunning promises ever.  “Whoever loses His life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25).  Nothing ever lost for the sake of Christ is truly lost.  In some way, shape, or form it always ends up being found.  That’s because when we lose something for His sake, we’re basically “losing” it into His hands.  Jesus is after all, an excellent Savior.

Time out.  You probably know somebody who broke all the rules and got exactly what they wanted.  They don’t seem to have lost a thing.  They “saved” it all.  Jesus doesn’t deny such a thing is possible.  People make terrible decisions and move up.  They do destructive, selfish things and feel happy with the outcome.  Every day this happens.

But then He poses a hypothetical.  What if they got everything they wanted—in fact, the whole world!—and then forfeited their soul? (Matt. 16:26).  Yes, they could say they got an exciting gulp of life’s champagne.  But they threw away the fountain of fellowship with Christ.  Worse, when they realize their mistake one day, what will they possibly give to get back what they lost?

The book of Hebrews warns us that Esau couldn’t get back what he lost even when he “sought it with tears” (Heb. 12:17).  He had been hungry one day and had swapped his inheritance for one bowl of porridge.  No doubt it was the best bowl of porridge he ever had, with that special spiced gravy all served up in his man-bowl.

It was so tasty for that moment.

Don’t live for the moment.  Jesus said, “The Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father and then He will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:27).  This is the grand moment.  For some, sadly, it will be about forfeiture.  For others who have lost for his sake but haven’t yet found, that will be a time of celebration.

Never envy those who seem to be getting all their rewards now.

During my first week of grad school, I took a look at the syllabus and wondered how I could still have room for a life.  As stress levels went through the roof, one of my classmates (who was not yet thirty years old) developed shingles.  The rest of us stole time from our families or resigned ourselves to living in a quasi-exhausted state.

But not everybody.  Some folks casually came and went.  When paper or quiz deadlines were announced, they never flinched.  In fact, they never tested or turned in homework of any kind.  They were called auditors.  They paid a cheaper price to attend class but with no commitment to assignments.  Their nights and free time belonged to them.

I couldn’t decide whether I hated them or wanted to be them.  They absorbed the same material as I, but without the emotional trauma that comes from the work-family-study crunch.

The only substantial difference was that they received no credit for attending those classes, while I did. Still, now and then the question would cross my mind, Why am I doing this to myself?

Eventually, my moment came.  I graduated.  I walked in a public ceremony, received honors from my college, and a master’s sash around my neck.  I got a diploma and letters after my name.  The commitment that seemed so unreasonable, so crazy at times, went somewhere.

Yours will, too.

November 7, 2011

Faith of My Father

Why did it have to be at the top of a mountain on a hot day, carrying all that wood?
His father wasn’t young anymore (had he ever been?) so Isaac took the load of wood himself.
Abraham went ahead, finding the path, carrying the fire for the altar. This was a long, long way
to come to make a sacrifice.

Isaac had seen his father make sacrifices to his god before, and it was always the same.
He’d build an altar, stone on stone ‘till it was right,
lay it with wood – first the tinder, then the kindling, then the fuel.
He’d choose the very best lamb he could find,
sometimes that took hours, talking to the shepherds, looking at hooves and skin.
If he couldn’t find the one he wanted, he’d buy one from a neighbour. That could take a day or two.

Once he’d found the one he wanted, he’d tie its legs with rope, lay it on the altar.
He’d cut the lamb’s throat quickly so it wouldn’t suffer and light the fire.
A complete waste, except it wasn’t.
It was a gift, a symbol of how nothing was more important to Abraham than his god.

But this one was different, not only the journey, but especially the fact that there was no lamb.
Abraham was always so picky about choosing just the right one, surely he didn’t expect it to
just be waiting there for him at the top.
Isaac had asked about that, but Abraham didn’t really answer,
so he dropped it.

Abraham was unusually quiet.
Anytime they’d sat or eaten or traveled together Abraham was full of stories
the time he’d tried to trick Pharaoh and his God had ratted him out,
the time he’d gone to war to rescue Uncle Lot and his God had given him victory,
the time his god had wiped a couple of entire cities off the earth,

and over and over and over again, the story of the son, the only son, the son their God had
given them, the son they loved, their miracle son.
The first star in his father’s sky of children and children’s children and
children’s children’s children.

Isaac had heard volumes about Abraham’s god. Sarah’s god.
But not today.

Today he was lugging a load of wood up a mountain, eyes on where he was putting his feet,
glancing at his father’s back.

Lots of time to think.
This god of his father’s was a strange one as gods went.
He didn’t seem to follow the same rules.
The other gods, the ones that ruled the lands around them, the ones that came into the family
compound with slaves from other places…
The other gods were tied to one particular nation or tribe or family. This one seemed to be
everywhere, involved with anybody he chose.
Isaac wasn’t sure whether he went ahead, or if he was following Abraham, but he had been
everywhere.

The other gods were distant and people did extravagant things to get their attention…
shouting, dancing, extreme sacrifices – even killing their own children to get their noticed.
His father’s god seemed to be waiting around every corner,
with something to say,
to ask,
something to offer
– kind of like Abraham was with Isaac.

But Isaac had never heard the voice his father heard.
Everything he knew, he’d learned from his parents’ lives and stories.
He’d lived his whole life from before he could remember by the words and ways
of his father’s god.

Abraham stopped walking. He looked around and said,
“We’re here.”
He told Isaac to sit down and have a drink while he built the altar.

Stone on stone ‘till it was right,

Then, he opened the bag of tinder,
untied the rope that held the bundle of wood,
arranged the altar, – tinder first, then kindling, then fuel.

He stood still, looking at it.

Isaac said, “Perfect! Now all we need is the lamb.”

There was a long silence. Abraham trembled, sat down beside his son, his only son,
the son his god had given him, the son he loved, his miracle son
the first star in his sky of children and children’s children and
children’s children’s children and told him about the lamb.
What he said cut Isaac open like no knife ever could.

Isaac was to be the lamb.

No.
That can’t be right.
All his life he’d been told how special he was.
His life was a miracle, an answered prayer, a promise kept.
He couldn’t die now!
It was too soon!
That can’t be right.
No.

His father was old, confused. Isaac was stronger, he could take him, maybe tie him up with the rope from the wood and get him home somehow. (On the donkey. That would work.)

To Sarah. Sarah would know what to do.
Isaac snatched up the rope, jumped to his feet ready for anything and in that moment,
he heard it.

He heard the voice – whispering somewhere inside him, behind him.
Whispering his name
“Isaac”

The whisper took over his heart and his mind and whispered to him in that split second every story his father had ever told him.

Every step of his father’s journey,
every promise made and kept,
every tear,
every laugh,
every surprise,
every demand,
every moment of forgiveness and starting over again and redemption.
Every star in his father’s sky.

And in that moment, Isaac knew he had a choice to make. A line to cross.

He had lived his entire life from before he could remember by the words and ways of his father’s god and
now
now
now he had to decide whether this god was his own.
Isaac had to choose.

~Ruth Wilkinson

June 5, 2011

Forgetting Yourself Into Greatness

This appeared earlier last week on Mark Wilson’s blog, Revitalize Your Church

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Who is my neighbor?”
“Anybody in need.”
“How do I love my neighbor?”
“With actions that help.”

“What keeps me from loving my neighbor?”
“Selfishness.”
“How can I stop being so selfish?”
“Forget yourself into greatness.”

Consider these words from William Arthur Ward of Texas Wesleyan University:

If you are wise, you will forget yourself into greatness.
Forget your rights, but remember your responsibilities.
Forget your inconveniences, but remember your blessings.
Forget your own accomplishments, but remember your obligations.

Follow the examples of Florence Nightengale, of Albert Schweitzer, of Abraham Lincoln, of Tom Dooley, and forget yourself into greatness.

If you are wise, you will empty yourself into adventure.
Remember the words of General Douglass McArthur:
“There is no security on this earth. There is only opportunity.”

Empty your days of the search for security; fill them with a passion for service.
Empty your hours of the ambition for recognition; fill them with the aspiration for achievement.
Empty your moments of the need for entertainment; fill them with the quest for creativity.
If you are wise, you will forget yourself into greatness.

As we forget ourselves into greatness, our hearts are filled with love. Selfishness is defeated when we invest our lives in others. It is in giving that we receive.

May 8, 2011

Make My Life a Prayer to You — Keith Green

It’s hard to believe a new generation of Christians is emerging who are unfamiliar with Keith Green, a singer who perhaps was a little ahead of his time in terms of the modern worship movement, but who sadly also left us before his time.  This song is familiar to many of us, but I post it here for those for whom this is something entirely new…

Make my life a prayer to You,
I want to do what you want me to,
No empty words and no white lies,
No token prayers, no compromise,

I want to shine the light you gave,
Through Your Son, you sent to save us,
From ourselves and our despair,
It comforts me to know you’re really there.

Oh, I want to thank you now, for being patient with me,
Oh, it’s so hard to see, when my eyes are on me,
I guess I’ll have to trust and just believe what you say,
Oh, you’re coming again, coming to take me away,

I want to die, and let you give,
Your life to me, so I might live,
And share the hope you gave to me,
The love that set me free,

I want to tell the world out there,
You’re not some fable or fairy tale,
That I made up inside my head,
You’re God, The Son, You’ve risen from the dead.

Oh, I want to thank you now,
For being patient with me,
Oh, it’s so hard to see,
When my eyes are on me,

I guess I’ll have to trust,
and just believe what you say,
Oh, you’re coming again,
Coming to take me away.

I want to die, and let you give,
Your life to me, so I might give,
And share the hope you gave to me,
I want to share the love that set me free.

 NLT Romans 12:1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.

For more info about Keith and Last Days Ministries, go to KeithGreen.com

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