Posts Tagged With: sacrifice

Revelation 14: Living with End-Time Vision

The conflict in John’s visions lets up for a moment, and now things are about to get loud!

John has a new vision, this time of the Lamb and the 144,00 marked on their foreheads for rescue and reward.  Standing on Mount Zion in the ideal city of God safely away from the pressing of the grapes of God’s wrath outside of the city (14:20).  So the praise erupts.  A thunderous, cascade of harps and a new song just for the moment.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this scene?  How does one ensure he will be there (14:4-5)?

  • Avoid sexual immorality
  • Follow the example of Jesus aggressively
  • Be ready to suffer and sacrifice
  • Speak with utter truth and purity

These qualities would have been especially poignant for the original recipients of this book.  Life in the Roman Empire where they were being progressively pushed towards life-and-death decisions made them daily have to determine whether they were willing to remain unspotted like the 144,000 of this vision (maybe recent Christian martyrs like Antipas who had been faithful unto death, 2:14?).  A little lie about their beliefs could save them some harassment.  Avoiding oppression through participation in the religious cults of the Empire and the trade guilds (unions) of their towns would also place them into sexually immoral situations, for sure.  Were they ready to follow Jesus’ example of holiness even to the point of sacrifice?

Many of us are not in the same immediate threat of physical harm and economic marginalization because of our faith.  But the pull to engage in a culture that is far too sexual and dishonest is still very real.  One can stand out too much in business and culture.  One can be too religious, right?  The call to faithfulness is one we need to hear too.

Begin with the end in mind

Begin with the end in mind

Maybe it helps to think like the second angel mentioned in this chapter:

Babylon the Great has fallen!  She has fallen! (14:8)

Remembering that apocalyptic literature is stated in code, Babylon is certainly a reference to Rome.  As Babylon was the immoral and barbarous nemesis of the people of God in the last part of the Old Testament, likewise Rome is to the nascent Church.  The trouble is that Rome had not fallen.  In fact, when John is writing this Rome is a great height of power.  She still has the ability to make her mark on these Christians (14:9) and to kill.

Maybe the point is that to live faithfully in the midst of hard times requires end-time vision.  We must remain focused on how things end, not how they are right now.  We must bear in mind where each of the forks in the road leads in the end, not what they look like right now.  The Rome of our lives have fallen.  They are fading away.  The Lamb will win in the end.  A new city is coming where the harvest is gathered in for abundant living (14:14-16).  That was certainly one of the reasons for this whole book: the give end-time vision to a persecuted people so as to strengthen their resistance.  Often, we need that encouragement too.

What stood out to you?

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Revelation 5: Worthy is the Lamb!

throne

God is on His throne in magnificent light.  He is at the center of all things.  He is given the praise that is due him from the twenty-four elders, a symbol of all of God’s people signified by the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the Church.  The powerful beasts bow before him.  If this is a concert or a show, the house is pumpin’ now.  There is lots of energy.  The stage lights are high and hot, and we the masses are in the dark watching this unfold.  The hall is loud as those gathered on stage pour all of their spirit into praising God.

Then someone new is introduced and, though it is hard to imagine, the scene erupts with even more praise.  The volume increases.  The back lights of the stage light up to reveal a chorus of angels more than can be numbered that join the elders in praise.  The strings of harps fill the air with melodious sound, and the air is rich with the smell of incense.  The Lamb has just stepped into the circle of praise.

We were expecting a lion because of what one of the elders had said:

Don’t cry.  Look!  The lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has won the victory!  He can open the scroll and its seven seals. (5:5)

But in a poignant bit of irony, the Lion has become the Lamb.  Let there be no mistake, the Lamb is powerful like a lion, but his work up until now has always been more like a lamb.  One must be a lamb before they can be a lion.

As the Lamb strides up to the throne to take the sealed scroll from God, song after song of praise is sung in his honor.  Sometimes the best thing to do in life is just to stop and praise before the moment gets away.

We do not yet know what is on this scroll, though we can see that it has writing on both the front and back indicating this is a full message.  We can tell from the seven seals that the writer of this scroll wants to keep its contents well guarded.  John was told at the beginning of chapter 4 that he would be shown what would be coming in the future (4:1), so we assume this scroll contains the future destiny of someone or even the whole world.

There has not been a lot of talking during this scene.  Singing has dominated.  However, all of the conversation up until now has focused on one thought: who is worthy to open this scroll?  The one who takes this scroll must be deserving (5:2).  As the Lamb walks onto the stage, the worthiness of the Lamb is their greatest point of praise:

You are worthy to take the scroll; You are worthy to open its seals; For you were slaughtered and with your own blood you purchased a people for God. (5:9)

The slaughtered lamb has now deserved to take the riches and the power. (5:12)

As the Lamb comes into the light emanating from God we see it possesses all power (horns) and wisdom (eyes) but that it also has the wounds of death on it.  As surreal as it seems, the Lamb has died and is now lamb-that-was_slainalive again.  In fact, this is precisely what has made the Lamb worthy to take the scroll.  If it were only power that made one deserving, maybe one of the four creatures could have done it.  It was the Lamb who “won the victory” by being “slaughtered” (5:5, 9).  A people were purchased for God “with [his] own blood” (5:9).  The Lamb is “now” deserving because it has been “slaughtered” (5:12).  The Lamb is worthy because it has died.

This is a big theme in the book of Revelation.  Suffering comes before praise.  Power is purchased with blood.  The way to overcome is by laying down one’s life.  Victory comes through sacrifice, not battle.  We will see this idea come back often this month.  The recipients of this book needed to hear this.  And we do too.

What element of this chapter really captured your imagination?

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1 Thessalonians 3: The Inevitably of Suffering

There are absolutely many wonderful blessings that come from being in Christ.  No doubt about it!  And these are easy to talk about to new Christians.  But in the age of the “soft sell,” do we acknowledge that the way of Christ is one of sacrifice and suffering as well?

Suffering was inevitable in a mid-first century AD Greco-Roman community steeped in paganism, where there was great loyalty to the Caesar, and where Judaism was a state-protected religion that just happened to want to stamp out this new sect that had risen up around this Jesus the Jews back in Jerusalem had crucified.  But do we mention this to new converts?  Paul didn’t shy away from it at all:

We sent Timothy so that he could strengthen you and bring comfort to your faith, so that you wouldn’t be pulled off course by these sufferings.  You yourselves know, don’t you, that this is what we are bound to face.  For when we were with you, we told you ahead of time that we would undergo suffering; that’s how it has turned out, and you know about it. (3:2-4)

The reality of suffering couldn’t be avoided in Thessalonica.  Shortly after Christianity came to town, the persecution started (Acts 17:1-10).  The leaders of this church could remember the mob, the roughness with which they were dealt, and the days they spent in court sorting through false accusations.  It would make no sense to deny reality.  This was a very real Christianity, right from the beginning.

Do we offer the world a Christianity without suffering and sacrifice?  If so, we are promising something that we cannot deliver.  We are, in fact, denying the truth of an integral part of the way of Christ.  For Jesus, the path to the New Creation came through crucifixion.  Do we think it will be different for us?  Don’t we owe it to people to tell it straight?

What do you think?

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John 19: The King Takes His Throne

I like how as we have read through the four accounts of Jesus’ death from the various gospels each of the authors has emphasized something different.  Today I have seen John emphasize kingship.

The word “king” is used eight times in this chapter.  Jesus receives a crown and a thorn.  A crowd shouts for him.  He is even enthroned in a significant way.

But this is a king of a very different sort.  He wears a crown of thorns.  He wears the purple robe only long enough to be mocked.  He is slapped not saluted.  People shout for him, but for his death not his glory.  Let there be no mistake, Jesus is a king.  Pilate says it several times, even when the people object.  As he dies, Jesus hangs beneath a sign declaring it too:

Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews (19:19)

With this in mind, John paints the picture of this chapter as a paradoxical enthronement.  This is Jesus the King, and the King has taken his throne.

Jesus is the king of sacrifice.  His is a kingdom of selfless service where love is the power that changes the world.  In this kingdom, victory comes through death.  His subjects will follow his example.  On this day the King is crowned and seated on his throne.

Do you see this too?

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John 12: Life through Death

Today, we return to one of the most foundational teachings of Jesus.  As countercultural as this message is, we need a regular booster of this message:

I’m telling you the solemn truth: unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains all by itself.  If it dies, though, it will produce lots of fruit.  If you love your life, you’ll lose it.  It you hate your life in this world, you’ll keep it for the life of the coming age.  If anyone serves me, they must follow me.  Where I am, my servant will be too.  If anyone serves me, the father will honor them. (12:24-26)

Before a fire

Two summers ago, my family took an incredible trip to the western United States.  We hit six national parks, the Rockies, and terrain unlike anything we had ever seen before.  Beautiful!  While in Yellowstone National Park, we learned much about the fires of 1988 that ravaged 36% percentage of that 2-million-plus-acre wilderness park.  I was especially intrigued by the fact that the pine seeds in the cones of the lodgepole pines that are especially numerous in Yellowstone can only be released from the cones when subjected to intense heat, like the kind found in a forest fire.  This is the very warp and woof of nature: as one tree is destroyed it is releasing the seeds of many others in its stead.  Jesus — the creator of those trees — knew, taught and exemplified this truth as well.

After a fire

Far too often we want the honor in verse 26 without the service and loss mentioned in the rest of this verse above.  We want fruit, but don’t want the wheat to die.  We want life in the coming age, but we also want to keep it right here and now too, instead of laying it down.

New life after a fiery death (Yellowstone National Park)

But here is Jesus reminding us that nothing of spiritual worth, nothing that brings life, nothing that lasts in the coming age will come without sacrifice and self-denial.  In our relationships.  In our careers.  In our families and churches.  In our souls.  In our communities.  Everywhere.  This truth is tied into the very flow of nature.

When did you last see “life” come from “death”?    

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2 John: No New Commandment

Without a doubt, John is the apostle of love.  Love is all over his letters and gospel.  Just look back a few days to the post for 1 John 4.  Today, in a new letter from the “Elder” John to an unnamed church personified as the “Chosen Lady and her children” (v.1), John reminds us that at its core Christianity is all about love, but the commandment to “love one another” is no new commandment at all.  This has been a foundational message from God, since the beginning.

And now, dear Lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we had from the very beginning, that we should love one another.  This is love: that we should behave in accordance with his commandments. (vv.5-6a)

God’s love is not the sentimental love of emotion.  It is the love of sacrificial action.

What caught your eye in 2 John?

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1 Corinthians 16: Intentional Giving

We know from history that Judea was suffering from a famine at this point in time.  The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and the surrounding area were suffering from a famine.  For the Christians their problems were only compounded by the growing animosity between Jews and Christians and how this cut them off from the normal infrastructure of life.

We can tell from this letter and others that Paul had made it part of his mission to help the Jewish Christians by collecting money from Gentile Christians in Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Achaia in order to bring relief when he soon visited Jerusalem.  Paul is discussing this in this chapter.  As a matter of logistics, Paul recommends that the Corinthians set aside their surplus money each week in order to have a store of money for the collection when he finally does visit Corinth on his way to Jerusalem.

On the first day of each week, every one of you should set aside and store up whatever surplus you have gained, so that when I come I won’t have to take an actual collection. (16:2)

I am struck by Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians (and to us) to be intentional in their giving.  This isn’t spur of the moment.  This is not a plea to give what you can spare.  This isn’t “brother, can you spare a dime?”  This is planned, purposeful giving and sacrifice over a number of months.  That is a good example.

What big idea really sunk in with you as you read 1 Corinthians?  

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1 Corinthians 4: Success Defined

Our American society defines a successful leader a certain way.  He is charismatic and charming.  She is an engaging speaker.  He has a strong backbone and can’t be railroaded by the people he leads.  She has a visionary spirit.  He projects genuineness and is authentically caring towards his people.  She empowers her reports and does not micro-manage.  In a post-Enron world, he must be virtuous and free from scandal.  She is available and open to input so as to elicit loyalty, but at the same time she is confident enough to make hard decisions.  He is a self-made man.  More often than not, successful leaders in our culture also have an attractive physical presence and have a lifestyle of affluence.  Bottom-line, a successful leader has power as our society defines power — the power of personality, persuasion, money, intellect, and respect or even fear if necessary.  (When you look at the complete list one almost has to be superhuman to be that leader.)

Is a successful leader the top dog . . . ?

The problem comes when we take this same paradigm and bring it into the church.  In this model, our preachers, pastors, elders, and teachers would be expected to be like the description above.  Consciously or not, we would then judge our leaders by this standard.  We should complain that this preacher is not dynamic or funny or a good enough storyteller.  That elder has not excelled in his own business career so surely he can’t help shepherd a church.  We certainly cannot abide a weak leader.  Nobody walks on a true leader and they have plenty of people to do the grunt work so they don’t need to get down in the trenches.  Successful church leaders get things done and win people over to their way of thinking and make it obvious that their ministry is achieving.  Church leaders need to make it known what they have done for the kingdom, so people will be impressed with them and slap their backs in approval and congratulations.  Successful leaders make sure churches have all they need, and their churches are not in want.  Ask yourself if any of this resonates with churches you know.  Do members you know have these expectations?

This seems to be something like the problem Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians.  It seems the Greek culture of Corinth had similar views.  Power is good, and weakness is bad.  Strong leaders are articulate and persuasive.  They get things done.  They evoke esteem and admiration.  They achieve and do not want.  They are celebrated and served by others.  We can tell from today’s chapter that this thinning was also in the Corinthian church:

Some people are getting puffed up. (4:18a; c.f., 4:7-8)

Paul makes it clear that this is not the right way to define success.  Churches need to guard against exporting this sort of thinking into their community.  It is counterproductive to judge leaders by this definition of success.  Actually, a church should be concerned if its leaders have this sort of thinking, as a new group of self-imposed leaders in the Corinthian church seem to have  (we will hear more about this group later).

This is how we [apostles] should be thought of: as servants of the Messiah, and household managers for God’s mysteries.  And this is what follows: the main requirement for a manager is to be trustworthy. . . . This is how I look at it, you see: God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession [a parade of prisoners of war, likely destined to fight to the death in the Colosseum], like people sentenced to death.  We have become a public show for the world. . . . We are fools because of the Messiah. . . . We are weak. . . . You are celebrated; we are nobodies!  Yes, right up to the present moment we go hungry and thirsty; we are badly clothed, roughly treated, with no home to call our own.  What’s more, we work hard, doing manual labor.  When we are insulted . . . persecuted . . . slandered. . . . To this day we have become like the rubbish of the world, fit only to be scraped off the plate and thrown away with everything else. (4:1-2, 9-13)

. . . or a servant-leader?

According to Paul, a successful, godly leader is first and foremost a servant and manager of God’s church, not their own.  They know there is no self-made minister and certainly no self-made church.  They may be very capable because of the gifting given them by God, but their greatest trait is that they are trustworthy of the great privilege they have been given to lead God’s people.  Their life is anything but comfortable, glamorous and affluent.  They roll up their sleeves and they do whatever it takes — nothing is below them — to advance the kingdom.  Their life is marked by sacrifice and they empty themselves of self, even to the point of putting to death their egos.  However, they are powerful, but in a whole new way.  It is the power of love, sacrifice, and the Spirit.

Now, that is a different way of view success.

What stood out to you?

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Luke 12: Beware of All Greed!

I think there maybe no more timely verses for this world than these from today’s reading:

Watch out and beware of all greed!  Your life doesn’t consist of the sum total of your possessions. . . . So don’t go hunting about for what to eat or what to drink, and don’t be anxious.  The nations of the world go searching for all that stuff, and your father knows you need it.  This is what you should search for: God’s kingdom!  Then all the rest will be given you as well. (12:15, 29-32)

I don’t know a modern American Christian for whom greed and anxiety over money is not a temptation at least potentially.  That is what comes when you live in a culture focused on money and materialism.

I don’t think there are any great secrets to conquering greed, at least not in our context (maybe you know one?).  I only conclude that with prayer and accountability we have to raise this struggle to the conscious level and fight it aggressively.  Maybe we ask ourselves why we are purchasing what we do.  Maybe we regularly deny ourselves certain intended purchases and extravagances.  I know spending time in environments far less affluent helps considerably.  So too does the practice of sacrificial giving to others.  Another big help is what Jesus says here.  Get busy trying to advance God’s kingdom and little by little, over a lifetime maybe, the trinkets of this world become less attractive.  At least that is what I am telling myself.

How do you fight greed, anxiety about money, and the temptation to be materialistic?

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Luke 9: Take Up Your Cross Soberly

I was watching again the first of The Lord of the Rings movies recently (notable because I almost never watch the same movie twice), and I was struck by how Gandalf was both drawn to and terrified by the ring.  When Bilbo leaves it behind, does Gandalf want to take it up and wear it and even use it “for good” as he says later to Frodo?  Absolutely!  The ring is such that any being would want it.  Yet, Gandalf will never touch the ring.  He knows, no matter how good his intentions, the ring will corrupt him and, therefore, destroy him.

I see the same thing happening in this passage.  Not in Jesus.  He has it figured out.  But like Gandalf was teaching Frodo to fear the corrupting power of the ring, I see Jesus teaching his disciples that power can easily corrupt.

I see an earthly king, Herod the tetrarch, scared that he might lose his power to this new man everyone is talking about.  I see people who flock to Jesus for whatever his power can give them, whether healing, wholeness or food.  Who could blame them?  I see disciples given power to heal and exorcise, who are excited to tell Jesus what they have done (9:10, 36) but who want to press pause on ministry to tell glory-stories about themselves (9:12).  I see Peter marveling at the power and glory of Jesus on the Transfiguration and glad that he gets to be there to see it (9:33), as if the marvelous sight was the point itself.  And at the lowest point in the whole chapter, I see disciples arguing over which of them is the greatest, as if the point of the power they have been given in this chapter was for their own glory (9:46).  Then they are ready to use that power to call down destruction of people who reject Jesus (9:54).  They have drunk the heady draught of power and have become intoxicated.

In the midst of all of this is a teacher who forbids his followers to tell others what they have seen and learned (9:21), who tells them he is getting ready to die, not revolt against Rome (9:22, 44).  Here we have a Master who practically tries to dissuade people who want to follow him, saying the cost is very high (9:57-62).  And also in this chapter are these famous reminders that the way of Christ is about sacrifice, self-denial, and service not power and glory:

“If any of you want to come after me,” he said, “you must say no to yourselves, and pick up your cross every day, and follow me.  If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it; but if you lose your life because of me, you’ll save it.  What good will it do you if you win the entire world, but lose or forfeit your own self?” (9:23-25)

“Whoever is the least among you — that’s the one who is great.” (9:48b)

Power only ever belongs in the hands of those who can carry it for a while, for the benefit of others not themselves, and who honestly see the “cross” they carry for what it is: an instrument of possible destruction and a vehicle of potential grace.  We dare not take up the cross of ministry, with the power and glory it can bring, lightly.

What stood out to you in this chapter?

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Romans 12: True Worship

Today we move from one my most daunting passages to understand to one of my favorites.  Paul is known for structuring his letters with long theological sections about beliefs followed by much more practical sections about ethics.  Romans 12:1 is that pivot point in this book.

We use the word “worship” in many ways.  I have to wonder if most of the time we don’t reduce that word down to far less than what God intended worship to be.  Worship is that thing that happens at the church building.  It is singing and praying and preaching (and dancing and rocking a guitar or drum kit, if you church does that sort of thing).  Worship is what some person “leads.”  Worship has a set soundtrack.  There is a “worship hour.”  Worship has an “order” of set events.  Sure, you can worship anywhere — on a mountain top, down by the lake, in a hospital room, in a flash mob at the local mall — but still we are talking about the same action: singing songs and praying prayers.

Is worship this? . . .

The Roman church Paul was writing had also reduced the idea of worship down to far less than what God intended.  For them it was about religious activities and rituals and sacred days.  It was about symbolic acts like circumcision.  It was about what food was eaten or not.  Worship was a cultural expression and both the Jewish and Gentile Christians wanted to stamp their own ideals onto that expression.  In short, worship was what took place when “the saints meet.”

The word “worship” comes from an Old English word “worth-ship.”  The connotation of this word is to show honor to the inherent worth of the person being worshipped.  It is tied to the ancient practice of “kissing the feet of” the person being honored.  Worship is saying to another you are the one, not me.  You are the focus of life, not me.  You matter.  I adore you and want to do your will.  Can you sing that in a song?  Of course.  Can you pray those sentiments?  Definitely.  But it is so much more than that.

Paul reminds the Roman Christians of this point:

So, my dear family, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.  Worship like this brings your mind into line with God’s. (12:1)

Worship is not a religious activity that takes place in a sacred place at a sacred time.  Worship is to happen everywhere all of the time.  God is not looking for some sacrifice of an animal or a sacrifice of discomfort in circumcision or a sacrifice of diet by avoiding pork or a sacrifice of time by observing the Sabbath.  Or let’s update that today: God is not looking for a sacrifice of time on a Sunday morning or a sacrifice of money put in an offering plate or a sacrifice of career by being an inner-city social worker or a sacrifice of zip code by living frugally and denying our comfort and status.  God wants us — all of us — as the sacrifice.  God wants us to tie our worship to how we live each day, as “living sacrifices.”  God wants acts of worship that are tied deeply to our “mind” and that shape how that mind thinks.  Everything we are and everything we do is intended to be worship.

For the ancient Roman Christians that meant that the most worshipful actions they could take would be to love (12:9-21).  They needed to worry less about what they did to their bodies and more about what they did with their bodies.  They needed to worry less about what food they ate and more about with whom they ate or refused to eat.  They needed to try less to get others to become like them and more so to become like others so they together might become like Christ.  And they most needed to do this with the people they disagreed with most.  Love is the act of worship God wants most.

. . . or is this worship?

How do we get this wrong (or right) too?

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Hebrews 13: True Sacrifice

“Just give me something to do!  Enough with the philosophy, tell me what to do!”

This exhortation is one I have heard a lot in my life as a teacher, especially when teaching busy, pragmatic adults.  My teenage students have a much higher tolerance for the theoretical, ironically.

The book of Hebrews ends well for those who are looking for something to do.

Our part, then, is this: to bring, through him, a continual sacrifice of praise to God — that is, mouths that confess his name, and do so fruitfully.  Don’t neglect to do good, and to let “fellowship” mean what it says.  God really enjoys sacrifices of that kind!  (13:15-16)

There is a real threat that religion — any religion — will replace the true relational worship God is truly seeking.  For the Hebrews, that meant substituting law observance and religious rituals for a true faith in and imitation of Jesus.  For us that substitution might come in a variety of forms:

  • Letting our assurance rest in our baptism or church involvement
  • Defining our goodness by charitable giving
  • Assuming that Bible reading, prayer, and listening to Christian music are the activities God most want from us
  • Thinking that the greatest things we do for God happen in a church building

This has been a common chorus as we have meditated on Hebrews.

Notice what the Hebrews author says are the sacrifices that God truly desires: praise, witness, goodness done to others, and fellowship.  In other words, love God and love others.  The sacrifices God most desires are relational, not ritual.  They are the sacrifices of will, time, and energy.  It could be that the best sacrifice we could give today would be to forgive a friend who has wronged us or to take the risk involved in mentioning Jesus to someone.

As we finish Hebrews today, summarize in one sentence the overall message you have heard God speak into your life from this book.     

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Hebrews 10: Don’t Throw Away Your Confidence

Are you confident of your standing with God?

All of us are looking for wholeness and peace.  We want to know that God accepts us and His words to us should we die today would be “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”  And we want to have this assurance with an unshakeable confidence.

At the same time, we are fully aware of our own shakiness.  We know our frailty and duplicity better than anyone.  We look in a mirror and see flaws few others see.

So we try harder.  We get on the latest and greatest self-improvement plan.  We reach down deeper within ourselves to muster every ounce of self-discipline we have.  We make lists of things we should and should not do.  We grit our teeth when temptation comes, and just try to hold on.

And then we fail.  We always fail.

Really, we are trying to be justified by law.  He are relying on ourselves.  Sure, we will accept the advice of God on how to live, but really our sense of wholeness, peace, and acceptance is anchored in our own deeds.  Really, we are doing nothing different than any other works-oriented concept of salvation.  Like the Hebrew Christians were tempted to do, we are reverting back to system of holiness based on our own efforts and we make light of what Jesus has done, though usually we don’t outright reject our Savior.

As the Hebrews author winds up his ten-chapter long argument for the superiority of Jesus over the Jewish religion, he makes one last plea that his friends not let go of Jesus.  He summarizes many of his thoughts with a powerful statement that Jesus is the preeminent high priest who offers a superlative sacrifice:

Thus it comes about that every priest stands daily at his duty, offering over and over the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But Jesus offered a single sacrifice on behalf of sins, for all time, and then “sat down at the right hand of God.” . . . By a single sacrifice, you see, he has made perfect forever those who are sanctified. (10:11-12, 14)

If the Hebrew Christians — and we too — will hang on to our faith in Jesus and “not throw away our confidence” (10:35), we can have “boldness” (10:19) and a “complete assurance of faith” (10:22).  We need not worry, because God is “trustworthy” (10:24) and “our lives will be kept safe” (10:39).  We can have confidence in our wholeness, peace, and acceptance because it is anchored in the work of Jesus, not our own vacillating attempts at holiness.

But all of this will take faith.  More on that tomorrow.

Hold on with confidence!

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Acts 25: Give Me Justice

I have offended neither against the Jews, nor against the Temple, nor against Caesar. . . . I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, which is where I ought to be tried.  I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you well know.  If I have committed any wrong, or if I have done something which means I deserve to die, I’m not trying to escape death.  But if I have none of the things they are accusing me of, nobody can hand me over to them.  I appeal to Caesar. (25:8, 10-11)

Paul is willing to stand trial where he should stand trial.  He is even willing to pay the just price for what he has done, though they will find out that he has done nothing wrong against anyone and shouldn’t be punished at all.  He will jump through whatever hoop they put in front of him, wait in jail as long as it takes, even appeal to Caesar and be shipped off to Rome, just so long as he gets justice.

But injustice Paul cannot abide.  Be framed on trumped-up charges without a fair trial?  No way!  Allow the Jews to spout slanderous half-truths without a response?  Not for a minute!  Be turned over to the bloodthirsty Jews because of some back room deal?  Paul will not stand for that.  That would simply be unjust.

Paul wants one thing: justice.

Following Jesus doesn’t mean we have to just lay down and take it.  Yes, the way of Christ is the path of self-denial and sacrifice, but justice does not have to be ignored in the process.  Meekness is most certainly a virtue (Matthew 5:5), but that does not mean a person has to offer themselves to any malevolent soul that wishes to do them harm.  One can be humble and sacrificial while also upholding and pursuing justice.  We are not called to let injustice proliferate in an already unjust world.  Even Jesus didn’t die because of injustice.  He died to uphold the justice of a God whose holiness had to be honored.

Like Paul, we can humbly serve a world that is not always hospitable.  We can put ourselves in places of discomfort and risk.  But we can do all of this while insisting that justice be done by those whose job it is to ensure it.

What struck you today?

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Acts 14: Sacrifices for God

They [Paul and Barnabas] warned them [the disciples in Galatia] that getting into God’s kingdom would mean going through considerable suffering. (14:22)

It sure will.  It seems everywhere Paul went on this trip he was either chased out of town or beaten half to death. In no time at all the crowd in Lystra goes from wanting to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas to wanting to kill them.  They went from being the object of sacrifice to the sacrifices themselves.  God’s mission necessitates sacrifice.

I am struck, though, how Paul and Barnabas go back through the cities where they are persons non gratis to reinforce the core message of the Kingdom to the new converts (14:21-23), and part of that core message is that disciples have to be ready to sacrifice.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this the “cost of discipleship,” not always something we hear a lot about in some Christian circles these days.  But how can we share with any credibility the story of a suffering Savior if we are not willing to suffer ourselves?

When was the last time you saw the Kingdom advance by suffering or sacrifice?

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Mark 15: The King of the Jews

As a child of the 1980s, Michael Jackson has always been a fixture in my memory.  Whether it was as a child with the Jackson 5 or his “Thriller” album (was there a household in America that did not own a copy of that record?) or the sad carnival sideshow that his life became, we all knew the “King of Pop.”  He spoke and we listened.  He acted and we paid attention.  He went on tour and he commanded hundred of dollars per ticket.  That is power, freakish though it may be.

Before there was the King of Pop, there was the King of Rock and Roll.  Just about anybody over age of 65 here in Memphis has their own personal Elvis Presley stories.  He shaped an entire genre of music.  He has a street named after him.  And a trauma center too.  His end was as sad as Jackson’s, but who can deny Elvis’ royalty?

The latest king plays basketball, King LeBron James.  Love him or hate him, none can deny he elicits strong emotions.  When the Miami Heat comes to town, count on a sold out arena.  This King has had his image plastered on magazine ads encouraging us to come “witness” the works of this king.  He has been emblazoned on murals the size of buildings.  He is at the height of basketball prowess, and even Michael Jordan knows it.

I grew up in Canada where the British royalty remains an honored institution.  Life stops for a royal wedding.  My mother still has a commemorative plate from Charles and Diana’s wedding in her china cabinet and that was twenty-five years ago.  Now, simply say the name “Kate” and we know you are referring to Kate Middleton, the new Duchess of Cambridge.  Beside her always is the dashing William, the next king of Britain.  I am too young to remember the coronation of Elizabeth II, but be assured that William’s coronation will be a fete unequaled in pomp and circumstance.

Then we come to a coronation of an entirely different sort today:

The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard–that is, the Praetorium–and called together the whole squad.  They dressed Jesus up in purple; then, weaving together a crown of thorns, they stuck it on him.  They began to salute him: “Greetings, king of the Jews!” And they hit him over the head with a staff, and spat at him, and knelt him down to do homage.  Then, when they had mocked him, they took the purple robe off him, and out his own clothes back on. (15:16-20)

This is a very different king.  Power means something very different to this king.  People respond differently to this king.  There must be different principles in this kingdom.

What affected you anew in this heart-rending chapter?  

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