Archives For sacrifice

Pig in hat

A recent study revealed that about 78% of Americans consider themselves Christians. Mixed in with that number, in order, are Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox (both Greek and Russian) and then a line item that comes in at .3% that’s just called “other.” I wonder who those people are?

I know you probably know this, but not everyone who cries out “Lord, Lord” is actually a Christian. Where I live, there’s a little Baptist church pretty much on every corner, except for the corners with a CVS or a QT. But thinking about it, we can get pretty religious about our pharmaceutical and convenience store needs.

Think about it like this – why is the world so screwed up if all those people are actually followers of Jesus Christ? The best, easiest answer is, it wouldn’t be if they actually were.

I remember in high school, people who were in the running for Homecoming King would always have their bio read during a school-wide assembly, “Yes, he’s the greatest and he knows it! He loves the foosball, hang gliding, galivanting with all his foosball friends, and he’s a member of the [local Christian denomination left unnamed to protect the innocent].” Then all of us who were members of that church would look at each other, and say, “I’ve never once seen him there, how about you?”

I’m thinking back to something I read in Mark the other day. Jesus was beboppin’ around, hitting town after town, doing his thing – a few miracles, some sermons, he fed a few folks, told some stories, and then one day, around dinner time, some of the local preachers and church staffers came up to him and questioned him real good about his heathen, sinful ways.

You see, Jews believed you had to wash yourself in a particular way before eating, or you would be ceremonial unclean.

And now for three short vignettes:

When I was a kid, if you came to church with shorts on, you’d be shown the door. Didn’t matter if you were lost as a goose and had never been and the Holy Spirit himself drove you to the front door and said go in. Shorts were not allowed. Not at church, not at the church office, not at church camp, not on a church trip of any kind. KNEES WERE SINFUL DID YOU NOT KNOW THIS??

A few years back, I was a youth pastor. I met a great guy at a school event, invited him to come to church, and he showed up with a hat on. On a Wednesday night. In the youth building. I had so many people complain about that hat! I thought at first they were kidding, but no, they were dead serious and quoted me scripture that said people can’t wear hats to church. I asked one guy to go study I Corinthians 11, then instructed him to make sure his wife shaved her head before leading prayer before the Wednesday night church supper next time.

In another church we had a youth band. Kids were coming in from everywhere, getting saved, getting fired up, bringing friends, leading bible studies at school – and the catalyst for all that was the band. Sure as heck wasn’t a middle aged bald headed youth guy. Well, there was some praying, too. Anyway – a church member told me if I didn’t “unplug those evil drums and guitars” he would unplug them and they would stay unplugged forever. I think he meant to go all Keith Moon on them.

Anyway.

How many of you were told by your parents as a child, and to this day tell your children, to wash up before dinner? It’s all about the hygene, right? They could have some unknown sand box pathogen and end up on an episode of House.

How many of you are Jewish? Well, they’re the ones that started that. What we call hygene, Jesus called something else. In Mark 7 the religious leaders asked Jesus why he didn’t wash up before eating. He flat out called them hypocrites. Look it up. Wow, right? Way less than tactful, Jesus.

Thing is, he wasn’t there to placate the pastor of some crappy little church. He wasn’t there to uphold the traditional, or to make the religious people happy. He didn’t come to bring peace – he came with a sword. He came to cut his people free.

How can you know someone is who they say they are? Well, a doctor wears a white lab coat, a leopard has spots. Birds fly and bees be. Generally.

“Well, Christians read the bible and pray a lot, and go to church a lot. Sometimes they don’t eat for whatever reason, and some of them when they pray it’s not real words coming out of their mouth. And they have a bunch of bibles.”

No.

There’s only one way to tell a Christian. Jesus said in John 13:34-35 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

When we can get over ourselves, get past our traditions, give up our hurts and our past, when we can actually love like Christ loved – sacrificially, unflinchingly, unapologetically, wholeheartedly, unconditionally, and without regard for personal safety – then everyone will know! There will be no doubt who and who’s we are.

How do you love? Like a regular person? With strings attached? You can love like that, but don’t call yourself a Christian if you do.

I was never any good at the maths. And you can ask anybody, I never even cared. My last good math was in 3rd grade, because in 4th we started all the junk with the fractions and decimals and all that. So, I did what I had to do to pass, which was cheat. Yep. I’ll admit that I cheated my way through math.

In college, math was required. I got out of it. All I had to do to get out of one semester of math was take four semesters of Greek. Not a problem. I’m a language/word nerd.

Nowadays, I’m a claims adjuster. Guess what? I have to use all that math I never learned every three seconds. I still kinda stink at it, but at least I can soothe people when there’s no coverage for their homeowner claim.

Who made up all that math stuff? Pythagoras? Nope it was already being done by the Babylonians 2500 years before he was born. See, I love the history, too.

God made it up. He set the universe in motion, with the physical laws that apply. Things that he created have weight and volume and dimensions. It was God who made it, and we who have tried to figure it all out.

Believe it or not, I love physics. About 1/3 of my library is books on physics. I understand the concepts, the philosophical ramifications of some of it – example – the universe, on a massive scale, is pretty orderly, and we can observe motion and make predictions, but on the very small scale, all bets are off.

Quantum physics is pretty dark and twisty stuff. There are particles within particles and they really shouldn’t interact but they do. Sometimes a part will spin in a circle and be back to it’s original starting position, sometimes it will spin and spin and spin like 8 times before it’s back to it’s starting point.

There are weird names for stuff, too. Quarks, muons, gluons, and each one has different varieties. There are six different ”flavors” of quarks.  Light is both a wave and a particle. Weird, right?

So why I am boring you with all this? Do you see how big God is? And yet how small? What I mean is, there are things so big we can’t see them – we don’t know how far out the universe goes. Once we think we’ve seen all there is to see, they make a bigger telescope. 100′s of billions of galaxies in the observable universe. And how small can we go? We think we know, then we make a new particle accelerator and all bets are off again.

My thinking is, it just goes on and on and on in both directions. God made it and he sustains it all, both big and small. And he still has time to have a relationship with you!

Why did God do all of this? Because that’s who he is! He is loving, creative, powerful. When you mix those together, you get everything. And yet he is above it, outside of it all. He’s bigger than his creation.

But, since the time of Adam and Eve, it’s all been slightly off kilter. What’s the second law of thermodynamics? Anyone? Entropy increases. That means, what started off as perfect is all going to fall apart some day. It’s why your batteries die, why things wear out, why when you drop a glass onto the kitchen floor you’re still stepping on the pieces 2 weeks later. Disorder increases. Until it is acted upon by an outside force. That’s a new law I just made up. The law of redemption. Ok, I didn’t make it up. It’s always been there.

From Adam’s first sin, to whatever you just did that you thought, “Crap that was not the right thing to do,” God has been breaking all the rules so that you could be who he made you to be. He doesn’t owe you this, but out of his love, out of his creativity, out of his power, he made a way to save us. I say breaking the rules but I know there are rules we don’t know about and could never understand anyway.

Who thought it up that something had to give up it’s life and it’s blood to redeem us and save us? Is that crazy or what? What kinda math is that? That a blameless, spotless, sinless, innocent person had to give up his place in heaven and come here to this messed up planet and lay it all down for messed up people like us.

There was no other way. Just like the fundamental laws of the universe that apply to our physical existence, the spiritual law is that when the law is broken the penalty is death. But Jesus is big enough to take that all upon himself. He took our sentence of death and died once for all, and now the law that held us back has been fulfilled! We are no longer viewed by God as rule breakers and sinners. We are seen by God through the filter of the blood of Jesus.

And now, we are living in the kingdom, just like God intended. This world will still pass away, and everything physical and temporal along with it. These bodies that we call home will be shed in death. But we will live on! This is the best news I have ever heard – that the God of the universe loved me enough to die for me! Jesus lives, and because he lives, I know I will live with him forever!

Don’t even try to figure it all out – physics or God. Some things we just need to accept. Start by accepting Christ, and everything else will begin to make more sense.

 

My wife Cheryl and her iPhones have a rich and wonderful history. Her first iPhone, a 3g, was fairly well abuse for years, culminating in being dropped in a toilet. It is now in the posession of my 5 year old daughter, who uses it as an iPod.

When the iPhone 4 came out, she just had to upgrade. We actually fought over who would get it first. I can’t remember who won that one, but I do remember being pretty childish about it. Friends would come up to us and show us their new phones and I would just melt. Then turn green with envy.

The day came when we both had our new phones and we were so happy. We spent our days on Facebook Mobile and Hootsuite, and our evenings texting each other from across the room.  Who could have know it would all be coming to an end so soon?

One day Cheryl went to lunch with some friends, it was a busy venue, and she left her purse at the table when they all walked out the door. It couldn’t have been more than 45 seconds, but that’s all it took. The purse, and the phone with it, were gone forever. Never mind the credit and debit cards, the social security card, the checkbook, the driver’s license. They were all secondary to the phone.

Cheryl went into a deep depression that lasted many months. Oh, she tried other mobile phones – cheap ones purchased at pawn shops and early 3g Windows Mobile Monstrosities given to her by friends who had cast them off like an old pair of golashes. Nothing worked for her.  Nothing would satisfy like the iPhone.

It got to where she couldn’t even be around me when I was using my phone. We had discussions about her seeing someone, getting some help, then something wonderful happened – the iPhone 4S. Now, we couldn’t afford one because we were still in the middle of a 2 year contract, but the new phone coming out meant that the prices for the old model would be dropping like baseball sized hail.

She scoured the internet looking for a sweet deal, we saved our pennies and even sold some things we had laying around the house that were going unused – a baby grand piano and our refrigerator. Not really. But the day came when she could make her purchase, and what a wonderful, glorious day it was! It was like the sun was shining again, and birds were singing, 10,000 red balloons were released, and the hopes and dreams of people everywhere came true all at once.  Cheryl had a new (to her) iPhone!

I wish I could say her iPhone trials came to a screeching halt at that point.  They did not, but they did take a different form. She doesn’t lose it in public any more, but she can’t ever remember where she put it when we are at home. We are always turning the place upside down looking for it, always in a blind panic, “Where’s my phone?!?” After all search and rescue techniques have been employed, we resort to the old stand-by – I dial her up and hope against hope that her ringer is on or the battery is not dead.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, have you ever lost something? I have. I’ve lost a lot, to be blunt. And if you’re honest, so have you. What would you do to recover that one very special lost item? Maybe it was your favorite blanket that you remember with a touch of the bitter sweet to this very day. Maybe it was a beloved pet, or an irreplaceable family heirloom. What did you go through when they were lost, and what would you give to have them back?

Think about this – God lost something once. He had us, and a terrible choice made thousands of years ago guaranteed we would be lost to him forever, unless something was done – something drastic.

Jesus alludes to this in the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. You should take a minute and read Luke 15.  Can you feel the desperation, the dejection? Can you feel what those people felt to have lost something so important? And how much more important are you to God than a sheep, or a coin? I think this is why the chapter ends with the prodigal son.

I know many people who have lost a child, either to having to let them go their own way, or in death. Both are heartbreaking, gut wrenching losses. Sometimes when I am in a disagreement with one of my little girls, I am getting a very small taste of this kind of loss. But to be God, and to lose all of creation – how much does his heart break for all of it, for all of us?

It hurt him so badly, so deeply that he was willing to sacrifice his own, and his only, son so that he could reclaim us. He paid that price, and he paid it dearly, because only by death can we truly be alive, as was intended from the beginning.  He lost us, but we can be found! We were bought with a terrible price, but to God, it was worth every drop of blood, every agonizing scream, every insult hurled, every blow, every stripe. He found us, and he bought us and now we are his.

What did the father of the prodigal do? He searched, he watched, he waited, and when the son was still a long way away, the father found him! The son made one move toward the father, and the father *ran* to him, embraced him, kissed him, treated him like royalty.

That is what our father God wants so much for each of us – to take just one step toward him – he will do the rest.  He’s already done the rest! All you have to do is turn his way! Nothing can separate you from the love of God! Not if that’s what you want – so the question is, what do you want? Are you lost? You can be found! No matter where you are, you are never too far away – turn to him and he will see, and he’ll come running and he will embrace you, he will make you his child, and he’ll seal it with a loving, forgiving kiss. That’s what I pray for all of you – that you’ll just turn his way, and watch as he completely changes everything in your life -just as he did for me, and for all the others who were lost and longed not to be.

 

There Will Be Blood

March 19, 2012 — 1 Comment

I am the 4th of 5 kids, which if you think about it makes me next to last.  I have a little sister, an older sister and two older brothers.  The fact that my little sister and I are adopted never really mattered.  We were always family.

Just like any family, the sibs will squabble.  My oldest brother was grown and in Vietnam by the time I started remembering things, my older sister was in the army, but my other older brother was around quite a bit.  He pretty much tortured me a lot.  I have always had a thing with heights.  He would hold me over railings, balconies, out windows, and he’d say, “Don’t squirm so much I might drop you!”  Which would make me squirm even more.  But he never dropped me.  Not that I remember anyway.

The sibling I interacted most with was my little sister.  For so long, it was me and her against everything.  No room to go into it here, but when I was 5 and she was 1, many, many times we were alone for days at a time.  I learned not to butter the bread before putting it in a toaster, and how to change a diaper, and she learned not to mess with me when Sesame Street was on.

We made it past all that, and as teens she learned what buttons to push to make me angry and even jealous.  For many years, I believed that my parents didn’t love me, that they only took me because they had to to get my sister.  I was the one always in trouble, and nothing she did, no matter how wrong, ever resulted in punishment.  Sometimes I even got in trouble for things she did!  At least, that’s what I believed.  Now, all these years later, I know it’s a lie, and that the enemy used that lie to try and destroy me, to keep me from fulfilling God’s design for my life.

This reminds me of a story from the bible, about two siblings.  Brothers.  Their names were Cain and Abel.  Check out the story in Genesis 4.  Cain was the firstborn, and there may have been others between him and Abel.  The bible doesn’t say, but it does speak of that same spirit of jealousy that developed in Cain’s heart, and it tells the story of how that spirit destroyed people’s lives.

Cain was a farmer, and I bet he was the proud type of farmer.  You see them a lot in Lifetime movies.  The ground is hard, it won’t rain, but that old farmer is still out there plowing and planting and trying to get the harvest that will pay off that new John Deere.  Abel was a shepherd boy, like so many heros of the bible.  Humble, hardworking, innocent.

Out of Abel’s abundance, he recognized his condition before the Lord God, and he brought the best he had as a sacrifice.  The bible says he brought the fat portions, the portions that would make the most smoke.  He wanted God to see his atoning sacrifice.  He wanted God to smell the blood and the burning of the meat, so that God himself might look down on him and extend grace and acceptance.

Cain on the other hand, well, he probably saw what was going on with Abel, and he hastily gathered up some of the weird carrots and potatoes.  You know, the ones at the bottom that you always save til last because they look funny?  But you never use them you just throw them out and buy more.  And maybe some kale, because seriously, it’s kale.

So, basically when Cain got around to it, he brought God some leftovers that he had no intention of using anyway, and he offered it to God.  And God saw both of their hearts in that moment and he had regard for the one, but for the other, not so much.  Cain was furiously jealous, but not murderously so.  Not yet anyway.

God saw what was going on, and asked Cain a pretty simple question – “What are you so mad about?”

Don’t you think Cain had seen these types of sacrifices before?  Don’t you think Cain knew what was right?  He did.  He knew the right thing, but his eyes were blinded by the lie that it wouldn’t matter anyway – “everyone loves Abel.  He’s the golden boy!  Can do no wrong, that kid.”  Why even try?

“What are you so mad about Cain?”  He’s mad because You cursed the ground, because his work is backbreaking.  It’s a daily grind with no relief in sight.  Once you’re a farmer, that’s pretty much it.  No way out.  And he’s thinking, “You made me for this?  This is Your big plan for me?  I want no part of it!  I didn’t ask for this!  And look at him over there, the chosen one, the beloved, mamma’s boy.”

And Cain’s jealousy became unbearable, and he looked at Abel, shook his fist at God and shouted, “You want blood!  Take his!”  And Cain murdered his baby brother in a fit of rage, because of a lie.

I fell for that lie.  I bought it – I was all in.  I saw the success of those around me, and I considered myself to be way better than them.  Funnier, smarter, better speaker, better student.  And in a lot of cases I was all those things and more.  I was driven to succeed, but it eluded me because of my jealousy.  I learned to rely on myself instead of God because He wasn’t going to show up anyway.

And in a fit of jealous rage, I lost everything.  My ministry, my life, my future.  For 4 years I wallowed in self pity.  I turned my back on God because he loved the sacrifice of others more than mine.  Then, that one little piece of me that was Him that didn’t die started breathing again.  Just dry, shallow, ragged breaths at first.  Then, over time, in fits and starts, my heart started beating again, my spirit became alive again, I remembered what it was to hope.  And God asked me, “what do you have to be mad about?  I love you and I made you for a reason.  Now get up and go!”

So here I am, learning a whole new way of seeing things.  God is not who I thought He was.  He is more than my words will ever say, but I still have to try to say them!  He is bigger than I will ever know, but I still have to try to know Him!  He is more powerful, more beautiful, more loving, more kind than my mind can ever understand.  The depth of His love and mercy puts me on my knees because I don’t deserve it, but He sacrificed so much more than any of us can know or understand and because of it I live!  I know the lie and I know the truth and sometimes they get all confused in my head, but when they do, there He is!

My other brothers and sisters are doing great.  We recently lost my dad.  He was such a great man, and it still hurts.  I know where he is though, and I know, and have known for some time, that he loved me, and was proud of me.  It makes me happy to know that.  But you know what makes me alive with hope?  My Father, my Creator, my God feels just the same way.  And in case you’re wondering, He feels the same way about you, too.

The new year is upon us, and I am seriously considering clipping my toenails to commemorate the event. Not really. Well, I mean, I’ll eventually have to do it at some point, hopefully before they grow out the end of my shoes.

Just as 87% of all statistics are made up on the spot, I’d venture a guess that 99 44/100 of all people everywhere have made some type of resolution for the new year. “I will do *this*” or “I will not do *this*.” Worthless. That’s what it is. Generally speaking. I mean, look at Jared. He lost 900 pounds in 3 months eating nothing but the Spicy Italian at Subway 5 times a day. That’s some resolution right there.

Let’s look at that word for a minute – resolve, resolution. It has a lot of meanings. A general all purpose definition is “To make a definite or earnest decision.” Think of it in terms of display though and we are talking about the resolution of a plasma tv or our computer monitor. It can also mean “to bring into focus.”

I can go on forever about resolution: In logic – a rule of inference used for automated theorem proving; in law – a written motion adopted by a deliberative body.

There’s display resolution (mentioned above) temporal resolution (frequency sampling in digital recording), optics (ability to record small detail), printing (dots per inch).

There’s also the HMS Resolution, the Resolution class submarine, and an album by .38 Special. And the last one I can think of (off the top of my head) is Resolution was the name of an episode of Star Trek Voyager.

What I’m saying is, there’s a lot of different ways of looking at it, and we need to look at it in a different way because the way we make resolutions is worthless – in one year and out the other. We just don’t keep them, and if we are not going to keep them then they are worthless.

And why is this the case? Because, our resolutions, in general are more like restitutions. We are trying to make restitution for eating queso every day for 13 years by eating salad and exercising. We try to make restitution by reducing our consumption of alcohol or tobacco, or by spending more time with our kids, or spending less time at work or watching less tv.

In other words, we know we’ve messed something up, or done something excessively, or done something harmful to our bodies or our famlies or our friends and we would honestly like to make ammends for that by doing it differently.

But that’s not true resolution. That’s an attempt to make restitution, and since we are not capable of atoning for anything on our own, we always fail. Except for Jared. He’s the rock.

You see, atonement, true atonement, is something that is made on your behalf. For centuries, Hebrew priests entered the temple, butchered a sacrifical animal, spread the blood and remains on the altar, lit it on fire, and the offering of that was a sweet smell to God and he forgave the sins of His people.

But it wasn’t permanent. It didn’t last. They had to do it over and over and over again.

Then, when the time was right, God sent His Son to be the ultimate, one time sacrifice. Think about it like this, the God whom we offended by our sinfulness, the God we hated, the God we turned our backs on, He sent His only Son, His perfect holy Son, to be the perfect holy sacrifice. He gave His life, once for ALL – for ALL people, for ALL sins, for ALL time – and we will never be able to pay Him back for that. We didn’t deserve it but He did it anyway.

We are indebted to our God and we know it. Even people who haven’t accepted the gift of forgiveness. We all know. And we try to make it right once a year by making restitution for our sinfulness. We sacrifice our selfishness and overindulgence on a man made altar but it never lasts because we do it on our own and WE CAN’T CHANGE OURSELVES. In other words, you ain’t Jared.

Why do I keep bringing up Jared? Well – and this is a kick to the teeth – Jared is a Hebrew name which means “He who descended” or “He who shall rule.” I keep mentioning him because the name itself reminds me of Jesus – He descended from heaven, and one day He will return and rule over all creation.

But the thing we forget is, He’s already here! We are already living as residents of the kingdom of God and as His children, we are forgiven, we are accepted, we are loved, and we have the power to overcome.

No more restitution. The price has been paid already. Time for true resolution. This year, focus on Christ. If He is the true focal point in your life, you won’t have to try to make restitution on your own once a year. Be resolute – be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Resolve to follow Him, to BE HIM to a world dying in it’s sin. Resolve to discipline your body, to make it your slave so that you will not be disqualified. Resolve to see things, people, situations with the eyes of God. And after all of this, be welcomed into the arms of God and hear Him say “well done!”

As always it comes down to a choice, and if you’re reading this, you must choose now who you will be from here on out. The same old you, just a little lighter, a little healthier – for like a month before you shove your face into a bowl of cheese dip again? Or will you follow Christ daily and in so doing, become everything that God created you to be? Choose wisely, choose now, resolve to do it with His help – and it will be done.