Tag Archives: Rights

Freedom and Sacrifice

“But even if he does not [save us from the fire], we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel 3:18 (NIV)

Tomorrow is Independence Day here in the States. Wendy and I will be celebrating from the lake. Fireworks are legal here in the state of Missouri and it is always a night of loud and bright celebration as people light fireworks off of the end of their docks and over the cove. It’s a lot of fun right up to the time you’re ready to sleep.

I’ve lived my entire life in a nation where freedoms of speech and religion are protected and where life and liberty are held sacred. Despite this fact, I’ve observed along my life journey that there are subtle forms of social, political, religious, and cultural pressure to conform. I find it fascinating that I came of age at a time when religious conservatives wanted to dictate their particular morals and standards on the nation. Now, I find that it’s the other side who appear to want to demand wholesale adherence to a host of social, cultural, and political beliefs they hold sacred.

These examples notwithstanding, I have always found it a bit hard to fully understand or appreciate the predicament that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego find themselves in today’s chapter. They are exiles in a foreign land. They are minorities holding a very different set of beliefs than their captors. They have likely had to learn to live among society and culture that was very foreign to them while trying to maintain a  sense of their identity and faith.

King Nebuchadnezzar’s demand that all bow down to the statue he had erected was somewhat of a common practice in that ancient culture. It was a litmus test of obedience. Interestingly, as I read some commentary on today’s chapter, I found that scholars are split on whether the Hebrew trio would have been breaking the Law of Moses if they had chosen to bow down. This makes it an even more fascinating episode for me. If it wasn’t a black and white matter of religious law, but a gray area of their personal conscience before God, then their refusal to bow become even more meaningful.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about my own personal beliefs. Where’s the line(s) that my conscience and my faith would not allow me to cross? I even find myself silently asking “For what am I willing to sacrifice my life?” On one hand, this feels like an overly dramatic and exaggerated question given the fact that I live in a land of freedom and I don’t anticipate ever having to face such a trial. On the other hand, I am fully aware that around the world people are facing this very real question on a daily basis. There continue to be dictators, tyrants, and regimes perfectly willing to execute those unwilling to bow to their political, cultural, social, and/or religious demands.

For what am I willing to sacrifice my life?

Today, I find myself whispering a prayer of gratitude for those men and women from every culture, ethnicity, religion, and political persuasion who sacrificed their lives across the centuries that I might walk my entire life journey on this earth without seriously having to answer that question.

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.

Freedom to Do What I Ought

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.
1 Corinthians 6:12 (NIV)

When you’re a child growing up in the United States you learn the phrase “the land of the free.” Without a doubt, I am free to do whatever I want (within the law), to go where I want to go, and to be or become what I desire. A a child I was taught the positive aspects of this freedom: I can succeed at whatever I focus my heart and mind towards. I can become a doctor, a fire fighter, an astronaut, or President of the United States.

As I continued in my life journey I became aware that freedom has a corollary truth. I am also free to be a jerk, an addict, an idiot, a bully, a cheat, or a cad. I am just as free to be a drain on society as I am to be a productive member of it.

In today’s chapter, Paul addresses how the believers in ancient Corinth should conduct themselves with regard to sexuality. He quotes a phrase that some within the Corinthian congregation were repeating: “I have the right to do anything.” Presumably, some believers were making regular trips to the local Temple of Aphrodite to have sex with one of the priestess prostitutes and then showing up for worship to claim that there was nothing wrong with their behavior and claiming their “right” to behave as they wanted because Jesus’ unlimited grace and forgiveness was essentially a spiritual “get out of jail free” card.

Paul goes on to explain that as followers of Jesus there is a greater spiritual truth at work here. Sex isn’t just a recreational physical act. When people have sex there are layers of spiritual, emotional, and relational connection that shouldn’t be ignored. Many, if not most, of the “priestess” prostitutes were slaves who had been “given” to the temple cult and forced into the service of prostitution. This was not just a simple case of “freedom” to do what one wanted. There were issues of spiritual health and social justice involved, and a person who claims to follow Jesus can’t ignore them.

I have a right to do anything,” one might say, but so did Jesus. Jesus had the right not to come to live among us, yet He yielded this right in order to become one of us that He might be One with us. Jesus claimed He had the right to call down an army of angels to rescue Him from dying on the cross. Once again, He yielded that right for my benefit. His example was to yield His rights for the spiritual and relational good of all. He sacrificed His rights to bring about Life and goodness. As a follower of Jesus, I’m called to follow this example. Jesus said any who would follow after Him must, “deny themselves and take up their own cross.” This means yielding my freedom to “do whatever I want” for the spiritual, emotional, and relational health of myself, others, and the good of all.

Along this life journey I’ve learned (the hard way in many cases, I might add) that as a follower of Jesus I am called to embrace freedom to do what I ought, not do what I want.

Radical Verdict in Repressive Times

So Moses brought their case before the Lord, and the Lord said to him, “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them.
Numbers 27:5-7 (NIV)

This past week I posted my first words to my grandson. The post “had legs” as is said of posts that become popular and start getting shared in multiple outlets. That makes me happy. They are words that young men, all men, really need to hear and take to heart.

It is, perhaps, a bit of synchronicity that today’s chapter should be a fascinating story of four daughters whose father had no son.  The prevailing tradition appears to have been that they and all of their father’s property would be absorbed by their father’s nearest kin and they would officially become part of that man’s family. Essentially, their father’s name and legacy would be snuffed out. Their branch would be pruned from the family tree forever.

So, the women bring their case before Moses, and Moses took the case before God. Those following along on this chapter-a-day journey may have noticed that Moses bringing things before God is a repetitive theme in the book of Numbers. Interestingly enough, God rules in favor of the women. It had to have been a radical verdict in that day, and I imagine it was intensely unpopular with the power male leaders of the Hebrew clans.

I am certainly aware of the many arguments my female counterparts  have about some of the historical mores that the Bible describes and prescribes regarding the role of women. Believe me, I am married to a strong woman and we enjoy spirited discussions over our morning smoothies when we journey through stories or teachings that strike women as particularly offensive. Nevertheless, I also find it fascinating that there is continually evidence through the Great Story of God specifically honoring women and raising up women. This is specifically true of Jesus who broke many societal barriers in his behavior towards loving and honoring of the women around Him.

This morning I’m struck that amidst ancient social and political traditions that were rabidly patriarchal, God decided the case in today’s chapter in the favor of women. It did not change all of the prevailing patriarchal attitudes of the day but it is a specific instance of a radically equitable verdict from God in an ancient society whose concept of gender was incredibly more repressive than our own.

Which is what I was trying to get at in my post and my words to my grandson. I myself can’t reverse thousands of years of injustice and single-handedly change society. Yet, I can make a difference in my own thoughts, words, and actions in my spheres of influence. I can influence the attitude of my grandson to do the same in his. Perhaps it will be the rolling of a small stone that will eventually start an avalanche.

The Conflict of Dual Citizenship

Vote 12345
Vote 12345 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 1 Timothy 2:2 (NLT)

As I continuously make my way through God’s Message, I am repeatedly amazed at the lack of discussion around certain things. Slavery, for example, is accepted as a way of life. There is no call to action against it, merely an admonishment towards individuals to conduct themselves properly in their roles and relationships within it. Politics is another subject on which Jesus, and eventually the fathers of the church, had little to say.

The time and place that Jesus lived and taught was a period of Roman occupation. The same was true of the Greek towns where Paul established small communities of Jesus followers. The political landscape was boiling with political zealots seeking to throw off the chains of Rome’s political and fiscal persecution. Jesus said very little about it, other than to deal one-on-one with those who were embroiled in the controversy one way or another. In those situations he concerned himself, not with their politics or nationality, but with their faith and relationship with God. Jesus said nothing of politics, he spoke only of our heart condition, our relationship with God, our resulting behavior towards others, and the Kingdom of God.

The type of representative republic in which I live was unheard of in Jesus’ day. A common man having citizenship, a vote, and the right of free speech was unthinkable. Living in America, or any other free country in the world, we have rights and responsibilities that simply didn’t exist in Jesus’ day. Therein lies the rub. I often struggle with the notion of how my faith and my political opinions are to coexist as a follower of Jesus. After many years of the journey I have come to decide on a few basics to guide my way…

  • My first responsibility is to love, both in word and action, every person regardless of their social standing, race, creed, color, nationality, or political views. If my political views become an obstacle to love, then my politics have taken too great a place in my heart, mind and life.
  • My second responsibility, because I am to be led and motivated by love, is to pray for those in earthly authority over me, no matter who that is or how much a agree or disagree with their political views and actions.
  • My primary citizenship is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God’s priorities are with eternal matters of life and the heart in individuals. If my citizenship in the country where I live, my political views, and my political interests in this world erodes or creates obstacles to faith, love and individual relationships, then I have misplaced my priorities.
  • As a citizen with rights, I should faithfully and prayerfully exercise my right to vote with clarity of conscience, allowing for others to differ in their opinions (even fellow believers) and not allowing it to create anger or division between us.

These thoughts have come to greater clarity in my heart over a long period of time and through many elections, political discussions, and personal experiences. I never want to diminish my rights and responsibilities as a citizen of a representative republic, but I never want my citizenship to a government of this Earth to trump my greater responsibilities to the eternal Kingdom of God.

My Payment for these Posts

hired.
(Photo credit: jakebouma)

Chapter-a-Day 1 Corinthians 9

If I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment. But I have no choice, for God has given me this sacred trust. What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone. That’s why I never demand my rights when I preach the Good News. 1 Corinthians 9:17-18 (NLT)

Four or five years ago I was approached by a publisher who wanted to make a book out of my chapter-a-day posts. I won’t lie to you. I was thrilled and flattered. Being an author has always been a bit of a dream. At that point in this blogging journey I’d just about blogged on every chapter of the New Testament, so I quickly made plans to package that for publication as a book of devotional thoughts. I made preliminary arrangements with the publisher, hired an editor and began the task of compiling and cleaning up the material.

When the contract came from the publisher and I began to read it through, I suddenly woke up to the hard reality of the situation. I would be signing over the rights to the material in all of those posts to the publisher. I would have to delete each one from my blog and take them off-line. I would no longer have any control of the content. It would be the publishers material to package and sell as they wished, and it would no longer be in my hands.

I will never forget the conversation Wendy and I had that day. It was Wendy who saw the obvious and did not hesitate to answer. “I think your posts reach far more people than you realize,” she said to me. She then told me directly that she felt that it was the wrong decision to package and sell what has been, and should be, freely given. She was right and I knew it as soon as the words left her lips. Just like Paul relates in today’s chapter, I was called to proclaim God’s Message [which is another story I’ve been reminded that I need to share in a post someday – thank you, Kevin]. I am compelled.

Perhaps I will still realize my dream of being an author someday. It will not, however, be my chapter-a-day posts. I threw away the publisher’s contract that day and told them I was respectfully declining their offer. The posts would remain on-line and freely available to anyone who cares to read them. My payment is the simple knowledge that you’re reading these words.