Tag Archives: Goodness

Is “Living Sacrifice” an Oxymoron?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 12:1 (NIV)

To Paul’s readers, the term “living sacrifice” would have seemed an oxymoron. Animal sacrifice was a common part of religion at the time. This was not only true of Judaism, but most all of the Roman cults and religions practiced some sort of animal sacrifice. So whether the followers of Jesus in Rome who were reading Paul’s words had come from Jewish or Gentile backgrounds, they would have scratched their heads.

Living sacrifice?” I can hear one say. “But, doesn’t the very notion of ‘sacrifice’ mean that something dies?”

Quite right,” I imagine Paul replying if he were there in person. “You do.”

Excuse me?” the Roman believer asks quizzically.

You are the sacrifice,” Paul says, looking the believer in the eye and offering a warm smile. “In fact dying to yourself is really the heart of your worship. Not the occasional sacrifice of an animal like all these other religions you see around us. Anyone can do that and it costs very little in the long run. Cheap and easy, really. Our Lord Jesus was quite direct in telling us that in order to be His follower we have to take up our own cross. We would have to sacrifice ourselves for others, for Him. Just as He did for us. That’s at the very heart of true worship, and being a true follower.

But how does that work, exactly?” the believer asks. “How exactly do I go about making myself a ‘living sacrifice?‘”

Ah,” Paul says, a twinkle in his eye. “I’m glad you asked.”

The entirety of today’s chapter answers that question. What does it mean to truly worship by offering myself as a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God?” Ironically, going to church, singing, throwing a buck in the plate, and all the things we normally associate with “worship” are not even mentioned.

Here’s a bulleted and paraphrased list of what Paul goes on to mention in the rest of today’s chapter:

  • Don’t follow the “It’s all about me” behavior and thought patterns of this world.
  • Transform your thinking; Renew your mind with Jesus’ teaching.
  • Don’t think too much of yourself; Maintain an on-going sober self-assessment.
  • Use your gifts and abilities to serve others.
  • Hate evil.
  • Cling to what is good.
  • Devote yourself to loving others.
  • Attach such worth to others that you naturally serve them first.
  • Be zealous in serving others, and keep feeding the zeal.
  • Be joyful in hope for all God can and will do.
  • Be patient when you’re afflicted, there’s a point to the pain.
  • Faithfully maintain an on-going conversation with God.
  • Share what you have with anyone in need.
  • Practice hospitality. Seriously, practice. You need to get better at it.
  • Bless those who persecute you. Do something nice for them and if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
  • If you know someone who got a win, sincerely celebrate with them (don’t envy their success or good fortune).
  • If you know someone who is grieving, be present in their pain.
  • Live in harmony with others; You might not be on the same note, but you can at least blend your differences so as not to be dissonant to everyone around you.
  • Don’t be proud; Every day you encounter people in lower, more humble circumstances than you. Be willing to meet them at their level, even if it means stooping below your comfortable social status.
  • Don’t be conceited. Consider the reality that you just might not that important in the grand scheme of things. Embrace it.
  • Evil that is done to you does not justify revenge. Let it go.
  • Do the right thing for everyone, not just your particular religious, political, tribal, ethnic or socio-economic constituency.
  • You can’t control others, but you can control yourself, so practice that self-control to live peacefully with everyone, not just your particular religious, political, tribal, ethnic or socio-economic constituency.
  • Let me repeat, give up your right to revenge. Vengeance is like drinking poison and expecting it hurt someone else.
  • If your enemy is hungry, give her some food.
  • If your enemy is thirsty, give him some water.
  • Responding to evil with your own evil tactics only escalates the situation and then everybody loses. Respond with goodness. You’ll sleep better.

In order to practice this list on a daily basis,” Paul says to his friend, “it will require some sacrifices on your part: your ego, your time, your pride, your resources, your wants, your comfort, and even your rights. That is how we worship God by being a living sacrifice.”

Inflow and Outflow

Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
1 Corinthians 10:32-33 (NIV)

Regular readers of these chapter-a-day posts (I’m grateful for the few of you!) will have noticed that my posts have been a bit haphazard of late. Some of it has been a particularly hectic work and travel schedule, some of it has been transitions and added responsibilities, and this week Wendy and I have been host to our daughter, Taylor, and new grandson, Milo. So, the normal routine has been interrupted a bit.

I have observed that so much of my life journey has been about finding balance. If I don’t carve out some time and routine for “filling the well” then all of life’s outflows (family, work, friends, community) leave me depleted and useless to anyone. If I get too rigid and self-righteous about my personal space and time then I end up self-absorbed in filling the well like a hoarder and there’s no goodness flowing out. Even Jesus took time for personal space and rest. He went up the mountain by Himself. He slept in the boat. He sent the disciples off at times. In His humanity, the Incarnate Christ sought to find the same balance of personal energy inflow and outflow.

In today’s chapter Paul speaks to the believers in Corinth about a prevailing attitude that some in their midst maintained: “I have the right to do whatever I want.” Paul chooses not to argue the point, but to add a layer of understanding over the declaration: “Not everything is beneficial. Not everything is constructive.” He then goes on to point out that this line of thinking is extremely self-focused. It’s all about me, what I want, what I desire, what I have a right to do, and what is good for me from my perspective. It’s hoarding the inflow of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and freedom while shutting off the outflow of love, honor, mercy, respect to those around.

Paul then goes on to explain that among the fractious and divided Corinthians he has sought to let his love and goodness flow out to all – both the stalwart Jewish believers and their conservative religiosity and the Greek believers and their liberal morality. “I’m not seeking my own good, but the good of many.”

This morning I sit in the quiet for the first time in a few days. I feel my soul soaking in the quiet and some one-on-one with Holy Spirit. I’m thinking about inflow and outflow. Since the first of the year it feels like the outflow valve on my personal energy has been cranked wide open. It’s not a bad thing. It’s awesome. My goodness how amazing it’s been this week as we love on our grandson and spend time with our daughter.  It’s fubar’d some of the normal routine. But, pouring out is the point, isn’t it?

I just have to be aware to maintain balance.

Some much-anticipated inflow is coming in 10 days.

(Not) Missing the Point

“…[God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit….”
Titus 3:5 (NIV)

There is a fascinating and utterly critical matter lying beneath the structure of Paul’s letter to Titus in today’s chapter. It is essential to understanding God’s Message.

Our chapter begins with Paul instructing Titus to remind the followers of Jesus to be obedient and to do good:

  • Be subject to rulers
  • Be subject to authority
  • Be ready to do whatever is good
  • Slander no one
  • Be peaceable
  • Be considerate
  • Always be gentle

Here is a do-gooders laundry list. “Surely this is what God expects,” I can hear a heart whisper, “There’s no way. I’ve done too many awful things. I’m such a wretch. There’s no use trying. I could never be what God wants me to be.”

But we can’t stop with the list. The very next thing Paul does is remind Titus of what both of them were, in the past tense:

  • Foolish
  • Disobedient
  • Deceived
  • Enslaved to passions
  • Enslave to pleasures
  • Malicious
  • Envious
  • Hated by others
  • Hating others back

What a contrasting list. Here is a description most of us can identify with. We know the struggle against our own selves, our selfishness, foolishness, and out of control appetites. We know the shame of our own failures.

So, how do we get to the former list when our lives are described by the latter? Eugene Peterson translates Paul’s next words to Titus this way:

But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life!

Here is the crux of Jesus’ teaching, and what I believe is the most amazing piece of it. Gods acceptance isn’t the result of being a do-gooder and earning some kind of spiritual merit badge. We are accepted by God amidst of our ever present laundry list of failures simply by His mercy. We don’t become do gooders to earn God’s mercy. God’s mercy is poured out over us, because of what Jesus did on the cross and because of the empty tomb, so that our lives might be transformed. The transformation is not our doing; It’s God’s work in  and through us after simply accepting this amazing, gracious gift.

Today, I’m reminded that goodness is not a prerequisite of God saving me, but the result of God saving me. If I miss this truth, than I miss the entirety of Jesus’ teaching.

chapter a day banner 2015featured image via www.radiate.li

Misapplied Emphasis

LOL Just divorced. And no, that's not my car.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” Malachi 2:16 (NLT)

Along the journey I have come to perceive that I and my fellow Jesus followers are prone to what I call “misapplied emphasis.” We see a nugget of truth, pull it out of the overarching context of God’s Message, hold it up into the spotlight, and place so much emphasis on it that it no longer fits into the landscape of truth from which we plucked it. We love, in particular, to do this with sin.

In my never ending sojourn through God’s Message I have learned that there are some foundational concepts about sin:

  • Sin breaks things.
  • In God’s economy, if you commit just one small sin, you are as guilty as if you broke every rule in the entire book.
  • No one can earn salvation by being good enough. You can’t wholly fix yourself.
  • We are all, every one of us, broken.
  • God redeems what is broken.

Our modern culture can scarcely imagine what life was like in the days of Malachi. Divorce was not just a moral issue but an issue of social justice. In the culture of that day women were treated more or less like livestock. Jewish men ritually prayed “God, I thank you that I am not a gentile (a non-Jew) and I thank you that I am not a woman.” If a man wanted to divorce a woman, he just simply presented her with a certificate of divorce. It was a cultural death sentence and she immediately became a societal problem. She had no social standing with which to get a job, get an education, or make a living. Often, the only options for divorced women were begging or prostitution. That’s why God followed up the statement “I hate divorce” with the explanation that a man of that day divorcing his wife was to “overwhelm her with cruelty.” Through the prophet Malachi, God is listing out some of the ways that the priests of that day had been dishonorable. The problem of men callously casting off their wives to become society’s problem was up at the top of the list. It was a matter of fidelity and honor, but it was also a matter of justice.

So, of course God hates divorce. Divorce was not in the original plan. Divorce is not the ideal. However, we are broken people. We lead broken lives. We experience broken relationships. The fact that Malachi spotlights divorce as an example of how the priests of his day were dishonoring God does not elevate divorce as a greater or more heinous sin than any other sin. Write “God hates” on a piece of paper and you can fill in the blank after those words with any and every wrongdoing you can think of. You can aptly say that God hates gluttony, but I’ve noticed there appears to be little concern nor stigma attached to this behavior at church potlucks. At the same time, as a broken person who is divorced I can share specific instances of being treated with suspicion and contempt by my fellow believers because of the scarlet “D” they seem to see indelibly stitched on my chest. Misapplied emphasis. Lord, have mercy on us.

I am divorced. The story of my journey did not end on Friday, May 13, 2005 when a judge signed the divorce decree. My story is still being written as day-by-day I struggle with the consequences of my past mistakes as well as my continued brokenness which daily reveals itself in my pride, arrogance, ingratitude, greed, laziness, indulgence of appetites and a host of other behaviors that God hates just was much as He hates divorce. But my story does not end with divorce any more than Jesus’ story ended at the cross. I am in process and am experiencing a greater fullness of love, life, joy, peace, and goodness than at any other time of my entire life.

Good news: Jesus came to redeem what is broken, and that includes me.

The Old Man in the Crowd

"If you want to feel young, hang around with young people. If you want to die young, try to keep up with them." - Carl Bales
“If you want to feel young, hang around with young people. If you want to die young, try to keep up with them.” – Carl Bales

Even in old age they will still produce fruit;
    they will remain vital and green.
Psalm 92:14 (NLT)

Most people that I find myself around are younger than me. Don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of friends who are my age or older. Most of the time, however, I find myself around younger people and I am the unmistaken “old man” in the room. Because my hair started to gray at an early age and I inherited the hearing loss gene from the Vander Well side of the family, it sort of puts the proverbial frosting on the cake. “Who’s that gray haired, deaf guy hanging out with those young people?” 

I’m exaggerating, but the truth is that sometimes I feel it acutely.

When I was young I often felt marginalized and dismissed by older people because of my youth. I memorized a verse from Paul’s letter to a young Timothy: “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” I worked hard to earn people’s respect and trust.

Now that I am older, I find that young people can just as easily marginalize and be dismissive of those who are older. I now look back at my younger self and realize that while I was feeling dismissed by older generations I was just as dismissive of them for being “out of touch” with my generation and the times.

Age is a funny thing. I’ve come to the conclusion that the suspicious dismissing of the young by the old, and the suspicious dismissing of the old by the young is a natural part of life. It will never change. The bottom line is that I want to cultivate life and produce good fruit every step of my earthly journey until I cross the finish line. Every generation has much to contribute and much to teach me if I’m willing to listen (and if I have my hearing aids in) and engage in life giving conversation. I can’t do anything about what other generations think of me other than be an example in my love and life. I can, however, act to appreciate and honor the generations that came before me and the generations that are coming up behind me.

I’m sorry. What was that you said?