Posts tagged sacrifice
Hard work! It’s an American tradition. We work hard for our money. We get what we deserve! God helps those who help themselves! Baseball! Apple Pie!
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. (Ephesians 4:28)
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Ephesians 5:3)
Working hard and earning every dime and building our wealth may well be American values, but they are not necessarily Biblical values. Why does the Bible say we should work hard? So that we will have something to share with those in need. What sinful way of life does Paul lump in with sexual immorality and impurity? Greed! Making as much as you can so that you can buy stuff and stick it to those who said you could never be successful may be the new American dream, but the Bible calls it sin!
Look at the words of Paul in Ephesians 4 and let me just make one little change. Let’s replace one word, “Gentiles,” with a word that perhaps helps us understand Paul’s position a little better:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the [Americans] do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. (Ephesians 4:17-19)
A little too close to home? Another reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same? Let me say something now that red-blooded patriots will almost certainly find offensive – perhaps even blasphemous: The American dream is anti-Biblical…unless you apply that dream to everyone but yourself. In other words, the Biblical version says, “I will work my butt off to make sure that everyone around me has a good life. I will make sacrifices so that others can succeed. I will lead only for the sake of those who are following me and, in my successes, I will humble myself and serve those who would otherwise serve me.” That’s the Biblical dream for each of us.
Does that offend you? Consider for a moment that this is exactly what Jesus did. He worked everyday to try to pass something on to us that would make each of us better people and our world a better place. He endured 30 plus years on this messed up earth – 30 plus years away from his home in the heavens – to make sure that we had opportunities that we otherwise would never enjoy. He was beaten and killed so that you and I could have it all! His entire existence was for our sake. He only came so that we could succeed and he made himself low so that we could reach the highest heights.
Then he told us to go and do likewise.
It’s time we reevaluate our pursuit of the American dream in light of God’s hopes and dreams for us. God may want you to make a lot of money, but if he does, it’s for a reason. He may want you to ascend the corporate ladder and be endowed with immense power, but if he does, it’s for a reason. He may want you to be the world’s best at whatever it is that you do, but if he does, it’s for a reason. You need to figure out what that reason is and honor it. That’s God’s dream for you and it’s a dream that trumps all others – even American ones.
Ahoy! A seafaring adventure awaited us today in our Biblical journey. Suddenly, we were transported from the land of dusty sandals uptight religious leaders to the domain of swashbuckling pirates and scallywags! It’s an interesting part of the story, made more so by the amount of favor that Paul receives along the way.
Not only was Paul allowed to go to Rome to make his appeal to Caesar, but he wasn’t held under very tight guard. He was basically under house arrest (and sometimes “ship arrest”). And when the ships men wanted to kill the prisoners prior to the ship running aground, it was the centurion – the Roman guard – who spared everyone’s life because of his desire to spare Paul’s life.
You see, God had a plan for Paul. He had a purpose for Paul to make that trip to Rome. And when God has a plan and a purpose, it cannot be thwarted. In this case, God used the Roman legal and political system to get his missionary a free trip to his next “assignment”. Sure, Paul had to pay a price. Being under constant guard is no walk in the park. But, I have to wonder if Paul would have ever made it to Rome were it not for this turn of events. It certainly was much farther than he had traveled on any of his previous journeys.
And what was Paul’s focus upon arriving in Rome? Did he demand an immediate hearing before Caesar? Seemingly, no. After a year-long journey at sea that included being shipwrecked for three months, Paul takes only three days to rest before gathering the local Jewish leaders. His number one priority is to speak to them – to share the good news of Jesus with the Jews.
His second priority, of course, is to share it with the Gentiles:
“Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! (Acts 28:28-31)
When faced with adversity – especially to the severity that Paul experienced – it is easy to become self-focused. Our survival instincts kick in and we do whatever it takes to ensure our own well-being. But Paul had a different strategy and, indeed, a different goal. For him, the Kingdom of God and the expansion of the Church were primary. If he had to suffer or even die in the process, then so be it.
As he lived under house arrest for two years, not making any progress in his legal battle, Paul understood that he was making enormous progress for the Kingdom of God. And, in truth, that was and still is the most important thing.
First of all, let me say congratulations. You have just completed reading the Old Testament! Two hundred and seventy-four days of our 365 day journey have been spent on the first 39 books of the bible. We will spend just 91 days on the other 27 books. There was a lot of content to cover in the Old Testament books and there will be a lot in the New Testament. But, for a moment, let’s pause in the space between and thank God for giving us such incredible writings from which to learn.
OK, now that we’ve done that (I personally said a prayer thanking God for giving us the Scriptures, which I don’t recall ever doing), let’s take a look at the book of Malachi.
They say that those who can’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it and much of the Old Testament seems to be designed to help us avoid that fate. The book of Malachi is no exception. In fact, it is one of the most straight-forward books in the Old Testament. In it, God levels a charge against the people, then explains what he means. He explains the actions of the people and then explains how those actions were received.
For instance, when they sacrificed a lame animal to God, the people probably thought they were being wise. They were able to find a use for an animal that was injured or harmed in some way and at the same time honor their commitment to God. But God didn’t see it that way. What he saw is that they were keeping the best of their livestock and giving him the part they didn’t want or need. In doing so, God says they were defiling the alter and showing contempt for his name.
So, if we don’t want to be “doomed to repeat” that mistake, what can we take away from this? We are no longer a livestock sacrificing society, so what is the application here? Well, I think there are probably many ways that we can show contempt for God in the ways that we give. Have you ever skipped a tithe check because you really “needed” that money for something? Have you ever committed to help at a church event only to bail when something more interesting came along? Is your commitment to God, prayer, church and serving others based primarily around the amount of spare time you have, rather than being at the center of your life and allowing everything else to fill in around those things?
I think these are all contemptuous things – they are ways that we put God at the bottom of the priority list, rather than the top. And yes, I’ve been guilty of all of these things. It’s easy to do, especially when we convince ourselves that we are the ones who know best or who care the most. When we forget that God cares more about us and knows more about us and our situation than we do, we can sometimes find ourselves in a place of trying to take control of a situation that he is much better equipped to handle.
But when we give him the place he deserves – when we show high regard for him rather than contempt – then the other parts of our life will be better off. When we give God control, he takes control. And he is much better at being in control than we are.
I have, at various times, heard people dream aloud and with they could be blessed with the gift of prophesy – of hearing God’s voice and being able to deliver his messages to people. It seems like a cool thing – a Christian fortune-teller of sorts. The problem, though, is that not all news is good news, especially in a culture so steeped in sinful activity that people are not even aware of their sins.
It is in that sort of culture that Ezekiel is called out. Even worse for Ezekiel than the fact that God has bad news for him to deliver is that God seems to want to use some object lessons. He is essentially using Ezekiel as a prop. Now, Ezekiel isn’t the first or last that will be used in this way to make a point, but it sure does make for a tough existence.
Imagine having to live life lying on one side of your body for over a year just to make a point. Imagine the toll that would take on your body – muscles would atrophy, joints would stiffen. It would be almost unbearable. Still want to be a prophet?
But here’s the thing: God gets it. He understands what it’s like to suffer for the sake of ungrateful people. He knows what it’s like to give up everything in the hope that somebody will take notice and change their ways. He’s been there and he knows it’s painful. He also knows it’s worth it.
I wonder sometimes how we, in our modern culture, have come to define “suffering” and “sacrifice” so inefficiently. We decide that, in order to get out of debt, for example, we “need to make some sacrifices”. You know, things like not eating out or going to the movies as often, not buying a new car or maybe *gasp* not going on a vacation. Our “sacrifices” are petty, and suffering? Yeah, we totally don’t know the meaning of that word. For most of us, spending a day or two without internet access is our definition of suffering.
But here, we have a guy (Ezekiel) and a God who both understand suffering and sacrifice and who both see the value of it. No matter how much suffering it takes, it’s worth it if people return to God. What would happen if we took that attitude in our everyday lives?
Isaiah 53 is one of the most famous prophecies about the Messiah. In it, there are a number of things that point to the life of Jesus – things which, of course, wouldn’t be recognized until after Jesus’ death. Some of the more interesting pieces of this prophecy are the minute details that align perfectly with the story of Jesus.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)
If you are familiar with the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, you know that this is exactly how it happened. In fact, Jesus had every opportunity to defend himself, but he chose not to. He remained silent in the face of his accusers, even though he had every reason to defend himself against their lies.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death (Isaiah 53:9)
This is a particularly interesting passage because it is so specific. Jesus, in fact, was “assigned a grave with the wicked” and “with the rich in his death” – buried in a tomb owned by a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin (the ruling body of Israel, known at that time to be somewhat corrupt) who had become a follower of Jesus. The man who “loaned” Jesus his tomb was named Joseph of Arimathea and is sometimes described as a secret follower of Jesus.
I suppose you could make the argument that Jesus’ disciples had scoured the Old Testament in search of Messianic prophecies and worked their fingers to the bone in order to fulfill them, but it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? These guys had nothing to gain and everything to lose by following Jesus. All they would have had to do if they didn’t believe he was who he said he was is to wait until he died and then go on with their lives. Instead, here is Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy and respected man who risks everything to make sure Jesus is buried in a proper tomb – that he is given an honorable burial.
I wonder how much I am willing to risk and sacrifice in order that Jesus be honored? It’s tempting sometimes to just take the easy way out – to go about your business and tell yourself that Jesus will take care of himself. But for people like Joseph of Arimathea, there is an understanding that the question is not whether Jesus can tend to his own needs, but rather, whether or not we are willing to do for him even a fraction of what he has done for us.
Frankly, I fail at this time and time again and I’ll continue until the day I die to try to find a way to muster the courage of Joseph of Arimathea in order to honor my savior.