Tag Archives: Sacrifice

Another Choice

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…Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram and the bread that is in the basket, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. They themselves shall eat the food by which atonement is made…
Exodus 29:32-33 (NRSVCE)

Along my life journey, I have observed that we like things simple. In fact, we like things in twos, binary, either-or, black-or-white. Even when it comes to spiritual matters, human beings find it easiest to reduce things down to binary terms.

We teach children that they are either “good” or “naughty.” It’s one or the other. As David Sedaris once noted, if you’re naughty then Santa will fill your stocking with coal. If you’re good and live in America, Santa will pretty much give you whatever you want.

As an adult, I am supposed to mature in my understanding, but I’m not sure I do it all that well. The systems still largely cater to lumping me in one of two binary choices. I’m either a Republican or a Democrat. I’m either left or right, liberal or conservative. I’m either woke or a racist. I’m either selflessly trying to protect the world from COVID or I’m selfishly contributing to the perpetuation of the pandemic. I’m either FoxNews or CNN. I am privileged or oppressed.

Even in spiritual terms, I am good or evil, going to heaven or hell, saved or sinner.

For the ancient Hebrews we read about in today’s chapter, they spiritually saw things in a binary option, as well: clean or unclean. The ancient Hebrews perceived that they moved spiritually back and forth between clean and unclean based on what they ate, what they touched, or bodily fluids were recently excreted. If you were unclean, then you needed to cleanse yourself in order to be “clean” before God. It happened all the time.

In today’s chapter, God is cultivating another spiritual level altogether as the system of worship and sacrifice is prescribed through Moses: being “holy.” The text describes a strange, mysterious, and somewhat gross set of rituals that consecrated Aaron and his boys to make them “holy” priests who could stand before God to represent their people.

What fascinated me as I read about all of the rituals was the fact that Aaron and the priests were asked to sacrifice a bull and a ram and then eventually they would eat the meat of the animal whose blood was shed to atone (that is, to make right and correct what is wrong) for their sin.

Hold the phone.

Fast forward 1500 years or so. Jesus is in the middle of nowhere with thousands of people. They’re all hungry (yeah, kind of like Moses and the Hebrews). When Jesus asks the Twelve what they can spare from their lunch box, it’s nothing but a loaf of Wonder Bread and a couple of fish sticks. Jesus has them split it into baskets and then spread out and start serving the people. Miraculously, there was enough filet-o’-fish sandwiches for everyone plus leftovers (Sounds a lot like the Manna and quail God provided for the Hebrews).

That night, Jesus slips into a boat and goes to another region. The next day, the crowds hurried to rush around the shore and find Jesus before lunchtime. They were thinking in the simplest of binary terms. I’m hungry. Jesus is giving out food.

Then Jesus does something very, well, un-Jesus-like. He cuts them off. No more free meals:

When they found him back across the sea, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.

“Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.”

To that they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?”

Jesus said, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”

They waffled: “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.”

They jumped at that: “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!”

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me…

“Only insofar as you eat and drink flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, do you have life within you.”

from John 6 (MSG)

In the quiet this morning I can’t help but once again see the parallel between the Exodus story, and the Jesus story. Exodus was the foreshadow provided to an infant nation. Jesus came to mature our understanding of what God’s Kingdom is all about in contrast to the simple satiation and indulgence of our earthbound appetites of the flesh. The Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of this world, and it requires the eyes and ears of my heart to see and hear beyond the simplistic choices fed to me by this world.

As mentioned in the last couple of posts, Jesus’ death was the fulfillment of the word-picture God gave Moses and Hebrews in the sacrificial system. Aaron sacrificed a bull, was sprinkled with the blood, and then ate the sacrifice to make things right.

Jesus came to be the sacrifice.

“This is my body broken for you,” He said as he passed the bread and told His followers to eat.

“This is my blood shed for you,” He said as he passed the wine and told His followers to drink.

Just like Aaron and his boys, we spiritually consume the sacrifice.

The sacrifice consumes us.

Everything is made right.

Holy.

Jesus said to the crowds that day:

“Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.

“This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.”

Until that day, I keep pressin’ on, one-step-at-time, one-day-at-a-time trying to be an agent of God’s Kingdom on this earth. So begins another day in the journey.

Have a great day, my friend.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

God Friended Me

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Then bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
Exodus 28:1 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I watched the first season of God Friended Me when it came out a year or two ago. The show is about a preacher’s kid named Miles who is an atheist and has a podcast to discuss is unbelief. God mysteriously “friends” him on Facebook and each episode the “God account” introduces him to a person who Miles is supposed to help, all the while trying to figure out who is behind the God account.

One of the things that I thought was interesting in the writings was that his father is always addressed as “Reverend.” Miles tells people that his dad is a “Reverend.” Everyone addresses his father as “Reverend.” He’s never, that I can remember, referred to as a pastor, priest, preacher, or minister. Just “Reverend.” Which, I kind of found to be unusual to the point of being annoying and one of several reasons I quit watching.

In my experience, clergy across the various denominations, and even religions, are all lumped together in the minds of most people. Either they aren’t sure what to call you, or they simply use whatever word they know from their own experience. And yet, there are major differences in both meaning and role.

A “priest” is typically understood to be a go-between who represents humans before God. In today’s chapter of Exodus, God calls on Aaron and his sons to be priests in the newly established system of sacrifice and worship given through Moses. The chapter goes on to prescribe a very ornate wardrobe for them to wear. The high-priest will be the only one allowed in the “Most Holy Place,” essentially entering God’s presence and representing the Hebrew people before the Almighty. Everything described in the priest’s get-up says that this is a singular and important role. (You can see an artist’s rendition of it in the featured photo of the post, picturing the story of Hanukka.)

In contrast, the term “pastor” is derived from the idea of a shepherd who leads, guides, protects, and provides for the flock. Likewise, the word “minister” means to serve, address, and care for.

From a distance this may just seem like semantics, but it actually has pretty profound implications in one’s understanding of relationship with God. The fundamental question is: “Do I need another human being to be my representative with God?” Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and Episcopal doctrine would answer “yes” to that question (though they might all have different takes on it). Most other Protestant categories of believers would answer “no.”

Here’s where it gets interesting. In the book of Hebrews, it is stated that with His death and resurrection, Jesus spiritually became the once-and-for-all High Priest who became the once-and-for-all go-between, intermediary, mediator for humanity. In the system of worship established through Moses in today’s chapter, it is establishing that only Aaron and his male descendants could be priests. According to the family trees given by Matthew and Luke, Jesus was not descended through Aaron but through the royal line of King David. Hebrews explains that Jesus was High Priest, not in the line of Aaron, but “in the order of Melchizedek.” Who’s that? A mysterious character who shows up in the early chapters of the Great Story in Genesis 14 as “priest of God Most High.”

King David would prophetically write about the coming Messiah (Psalm 110):

“The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,
‘You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”’

The cool thing established here is that Jesus unites what had previously always been separated. The monarchy and priesthood were separated. The royal line was from David. The priesthood was from Aaron. Jesus, as David himself prophesied, spiritually became both King and Priest.

As Paul wrote to Timothy:

“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”

With that distinction, there is no longer need for another human being to be the intermediary between me and God. I have direct access to God and all the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness that flows to me through Jesus delivered by God’s Spirit.

As I read through today’s chapter in Exodus and the ancient, intricate system of worship prescribed, I find myself grateful to be living in this chapter of the Great Story. How cool that my relationship with God does not have to be complicated. John’s beautiful introduction to the Jesus story puts it this way:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Simple.

God friended me.

All I had to do was accept.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Transformed by Love

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2 (NIV)

As I mentioned in my previous post, the letters of John are, chronologically, the last of the letters to have been written by Jesus’ apostles. Tradition holds that John outlived all of the other apostles and is the only of the original Twelve to die of natural causes. The rest were all martyred for their faith.

The indisputable theme of John’s writing and life is love. He was known as “the disciple Jesus’ loved.” He was the only disciple with the courage to personally show up at the crucifixion. Jesus, while hanging on the cross, entrusted John with the care of His mother. As you might expect, having been the last of Jesus’ disciples, John was sought out and revered by Jesus’ followers. Tradition holds that, in his old age, John said nothing except “Children, love one another” over and over and over again.

What’s fascinating about the perpetual theme of love in John’s writing and the description of John as a person consumed with love is that it stands in stark contrast to the John we meet in the biographies of Jesus written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John and his brother James were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” for their intense anger and rage. At least twice John pleaded with Jesus to call down fire from heaven and burn up those he was condemning. John, his brother James, and their mother were at the center of multiple attempts to selfishly claim positional power within Jesus’ followers.

John was transformed from a raging, self-centered Son of Thunder into a generous, humble man who knew nothing but “love one another.”

In today’s chapter, John makes an interesting statement. He states that Jesus’ death was the atoning sacrifice for “the sins of the whole world.” In ancient times, a sacrifice of atonement was an offering or a literal animal sacrifice intended as a type of penance for wrongdoing in order to appease God and ward off God’s wrath. The atoning sacrifice was limited to the person making the sacrifice, or in the case of the sacrificial system handed down through Moses it was limited to the people of Israel. Jesus’ sacrificial death, however, was unlimited atonement. It was a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

I have often observed that Jesus’ followers often get focused on doctrine to the exclusion of the very things those doctrines mean (I’m including myself in this). If Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, then every person in the world is a person for whom Jesus died. If I truly believe what I say I believe, then I think that simple fact should transform how I view others, how I address others, and how I treat others.

My life should be transformed by love the same way John’s was. If not, then something is amiss. Or, as John put it in today’s chapter:

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.

Want to read more?

Click on the image of John to be taken to a simple visual index of all the chapter-a-day posts from 1 John.

You can also click here to open a simple visual index of chapter-a-day posts indexed by book of the Bible.

A Good Day

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
Mark 10:35 (NIV)

Every parent knows a set-up question when they hear it.

“Dad? I’m going to ask you something and you have to answer ‘yes.'”

“Mom? Haven’t I been really, really good this week?”

The set-up question is intended to get the desired answer from the real question. I remember being a young boy playing this game in my prayers with God. If I wanted the Vikings to win the game or my older brothers girlfriends to simply “stop by” our house (they always doted on me, and I loved it), then I would barter with the Almighty to get my wish. I might make the case for my good behavior to have been good enough to “earn” what it is I wanted. I might have promised all sorts of obedient services I could render on the back-end of my fulfilled wish should my Genie-God grant my self-centered request.

Obviously, as a young boy, I had a lot to learn about God, prayer, the Great Story, and my role in it. I’m grateful that God is eternally patient and faithful.

In today’s chapter, I found my lesson wrapped in the layout of events that Mark includes as Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem for the climactic week of His earthly sojourn.

First, Jesus sends a rich, young man away sad because the man was unwilling to do the one thing that stood between him and God: sell everything he owned and give it to the poor. In the post-event discussion with His followers, Jesus reminds them that in the economy of God’s Kingdom (the real one, not the false one that the institutional church created for 1700 years) “the first will be last and the last will be first.”

The very next thing, Jesus tells #TheTwelve for the third time exactly what’s going to happen:

“We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

Sometimes I’ve noticed that the chapter breaks and headings that modern scholars have introduced into the text keep me from seeing the flow and connections between pieces of the story. Today was a great example. Jesus reminds the disciples that the first will be last, and then He gives them the ultimate example: I, the miracle-working Son of God who heals, frees, feeds, and raises people from the dead, am going to submit myself to suffer and die in order to redeem all things.

What happens next?

James and John come to Jesus with a “set-up question!”

“Um, Jesus? We want you to promise to do whatever it is we’re about to ask you.”

What was the question? They were looking out for numero uno. If Jesus was going to die, then the brothers Zebedee just wanted to tie up some loose ends. They wanted to make sure that their eternal future was secure. They wanted to ink the deal with Jesus, once and for all, to make sure they ended up “Top Dog” on the heavenly food chain.

I can hear the echo of Jesus’ words from what seems like every single chapter I’ve read the past two weeks: “Do you still not understand?”

For the record, James and John got about as far as I did with the Vikings winning the Super Bowl.

In the quiet, on this Good Friday morning, I am reminded of all the ways I have cast myself in the role of James and John. It might have been cloaked in religious set-up questions, bartered goodness, and the economics of a worldly institutional kingdom dressed in religious robes. The truth is what I’ve been quietly contemplating this week. In so many ways, I know that I still don’t completely get it.

Good Friday. The secret trials. The kangaroo court. The beatings. The mocking. The jeering. The crowd screaming for blood. The scourging. The nails driven into wrists and feet. The hanging naked on a cross as public spectacle; Naked, bleeding and losing control of his bodily functions in front of His own mother. And, as He hangs there between heaven and earth on the cusp of death…

Making sure his mother will be cared for.

Forgiving His executioners.

Extending grace to a confessed and convicted thief.

“The first shall be last. If you want to be the greatest, you must become the servant of all.”

A good day to open my head and heart to continue understanding, to continue getting it, and continuing to let it change me.

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

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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.”

One of the Things We Continually Get Wrong

Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Acts 21:13 (NIV)

I have a notebook in which I keep thoughts, notes, and ideas that come to me at odd times. In this notebook I have a series of messages I’d like to give someday. The working title of the series is The Things We Continually Get Wrong. It’s about the common thoughts and beliefs I observe followers of Jesus continually embrace (and, I confess, that I sometimes catch myself embracing) despite what God’s Message teaches and two millenia of examples provide.

One of the things on my list of The Things We Continually Get Wrong is the notion that God’s will is for all of us is to be healthy, wealthy and wise in the temporal and material sense. There are plenty of teachers and preachers willing to tell us that (usually as they ask people to give them money), yet those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus often find a very different reality.

As I read today’s chapter I thought about Paul’s resolute decision to travel to Jerusalem, despite being told by both God and prophetic believers that it would not end well for him. Paul is on a mission, and as Luke describes the events I couldn’t help but think of how Luke also described Jesus’ in Luke 9:51: As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem[emphasis added]

Now, Paul is following in Jesus’ footsteps, and he knows it.

This morning I’m again reminded of our human desire to cling to this life and avoid death [see yesterday’s post]. It’s a natural desire, but it’s another thing I find that we continually get wrong as believers. If I truly believe what Jesus taught, what Jesus exemplified, and what I see Paul doing in today’s chapter, then I must embrace the notion taught in the old timey spiritual:  This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through. Paul, like Jesus before him, is pressing the events that will lead to his death. This isn’t some act of suicidal desperation, but an act of obedience and sacrifice knowing that the events which will transpire will provide the platform for Paul to share the Message in unparalleled ways with people he would otherwise never reach.

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, while those willing to lose their lives will find it.”

“So, You Want a Promotion?”

Then Jeremiah said to the family of the Rekabites, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘You have obeyed the command of your forefatherJehonadab and have followed all his instructions and have done everything he ordered.’ Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Jehonadab son of Rekab will never fail to have a descendant to serve me.’”
Jeremiah 35:18-19 (NIV)

Once upon a time, I was asked by an executive with one of my company’s clients to mentor a handful of young people with management potential. The executive was looking for my objective insight and assessment regarding the young employees’ fitness for promotion and development.

At one point in the coaching process I asked each of my protegés to complete a certain strategic task. I provided them with instruction and examples. I also offered to assist as they progressed in their work.

One of them set to work, emailing me drafts and asking for my feedback and assistance. The task was completed on time and had already been fruitful in initiating some other positive outcomes in the person’s work. Meanwhile, I had not heard from one of my other charges at all. When we sat down to review the project, this person shrugged and admitted that the task had simply not been done. My charge then went on to explain that there were other important things that took precedent.

Who do you think I recommended for promotion?

Who do you think received a promotion?

It’s a simple word picture of obedience, which is exactly the point of today’s chapter in the prophet Jeremiah’s works. God asks Jeremiah to bring a nomadic clan called the Rekabites to the temple and offer them some wine, knowing that the Rekabites would refuse. For generations the Rekabites’ entire clan shunned wine because their forefather had been promised that God would bless them if they didn’t drink wine or build houses. As expected, the Rekabites politely declined the wine offered them.

Jeremiah then uses this simple example of obedience as a foundational word picture for his message to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. The simple obedience of one nomadic clan contrasted with the countless prophetic messages God had sent to the people of Judah promising them blessing if only they would stop their worship of local pagan dieties. They continually refused.

This morning I’m reminded of the prophet Samuel’s words to King Saul when Saul flatly disobeyed God’s simple command that a King was not to offer sacrifices (only a priest should do that):

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
    and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has rejected you as king.”

Simple command. Simple obedience.

This morning in the quiet I’m taking stock of my own thoughts, words, relationships, and actions. Are there areas of simple, willful disobedience in my life?

I have often observed in this chapter-a-day journey that, unlike today’s educational system, God doesn’t just promote us to the next grade level until we’ve learned the lessons in the stage we’re in.

Are there places in which simple disobedience is keeping me from getting a promotion?

A Sacrifice of Aroma

The Lord said to Moses, “Give this command to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Make sure that you present to me at the appointed time my food offerings, as an aroma pleasing to me.’”
Numbers 28:1-2 (NIV)

I remember as a young child taking a school field trip to the Wonder Bread bakery in Des Moines. I can still remember the overwhelming aroma of all those loaves baking in the industrial oven. Pardon the pun, but it was a little slice of heaven to me. At the end of the tour each of us were given a mini-loaf of freshly baked bread still warm from the oven. The simple joy of that experience is still fresh in my memory almost fifty years later.

There is, perhaps, no aroma more pleasing to my soul than that of freshly baked bread. Over the past few weeks, between baby shower and Thanksgiving celebrations, Wendy has made multiple loaves of bread at home. The aroma wafts up the stairway from our kitchen into my office. I don’t know whether it is the nostalgic memories of my mother baking in the kitchen or something more innately human that connects my spirit to the smell of something so basic to life. It fills my spirit in a way that’s almost impossible to describe or quantify.

I find it fascinating that God prescribed to the ancient Hebrews sacrifices of aroma. In my experience we rarely, if ever, connect the spiritual to our sense of smell. Yet we depend on our olfactory senses in such basic ways. When the deli meat has been in the refrigerator for a while Wendy asks me to smell it to discern whether it’s still good. I have cologne in my bathroom cupboard that I refrain from putting on when Wendy and I are going on a date because I know the smell turns her off.  Quite often one of us will stop and say, “I smell something rotten” because our sense of smell has determined there is something amiss.

In his letter to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth, Paul makes the point that they are the “aroma of Christ.” I’ve always been attracted to that word picture. I’ve blogged about it multiple times. When I’m on site with a client today will my spirit, my attitude, my words, and my actions be a pleasing aroma to those around me? Just as my soul smiles at the smell of Wendy’s freshly baked bread, will there be some sense in which my clients will think, “I always like it when Tom shows up.”

Conversely, it is perfectly possible that I might possibly “stink up” a place. When my life, my mind, or my soul are slowly rotting from the effects of fear, anxiety, judgement, anger, hatred, envy, bitterness, pride, conceit, or the like, others can “smell” it in the air when I’m present.

In another letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome, Paul tells them to  offer themselves as “living sacrifices.” I’ve never connected the two, but this morning I’m thinking of my “living sacrifice” being a sacrifice of aroma just like God asked from the ancient Hebrews in today’s chapter. Today I want my life and actions to be like the aroma of freshly baked bread in God’s nostrils. I want my presence on-site with my client today to be a similarly pleasing spiritual fragrance for them.

In order for Wendy to produce the aroma of freshly baked bread in our home, she has to actively preheat the oven, mix the recipe in the kitchen, let the dough rise, and bring about the conditions in which the bread will bake and the aroma will be unleashed. Similarly, I’ve got to consciously put together the recipe of intention, thought, words and actions to produce a pleasing aroma for God in my day today.

Of course, in order to produce a stench I don’t have to do a thing. When a living thing sits long enough in stagnation the rot will eventually, naturally happen on its own.

It Was Never About the Rules

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
Hebrews 7:18-19 (NIV)

When our daughters, Taylor and Madison, were young girls they were subjected to a fairly substantial system of rules. There were moral rules (don’t lie, don’t take what’s not yours, don’t hurt another person, et al). There were rules of health and hygiene (wash your hands before meals, no snacks before meals, cover your mouth when you cough, take a bath regularly, et al). There were rules of the family system (do what mommy or daddy says, put away your toys before bed, say your prayers, et al).

Taylor and Madison were both good kids, though they were certainly not perfect. Let me make two very important points:

First, I love Taylor and Madison dearly, but not because of the perfection with which they obeyed my rules! I love them because they are my daughters. They are God’s uniquely beautiful creations. They are inherently lovable, valuable and capable beings.

Second, the rules that I as a father subjected them to as young children had nothing to do with earning my love. Certainly there was a measure of pride and joy when they were obedient (which they did most of the time), and there was disappointment and even anger if they willfully disobeyed (trust me, I have stories). However, neither their obedience nor disobedience had any effect on my underlying love for them. The rules were about teaching them how to live healthy, productive lives, how to successfully live in relationship with others, and how to contribute meaningfully to the lives of others and the world as a whole.

In today’s chapter, a very similar distinction is being made that is critical to our understanding of both God the Father (God for us) and Jesus, God the Son (God with us). The law of Moses (that would include the Big Ten commandments and the more than 600 other rules) was the guiding force of Hebrew religion. The Hebrew priests, descendants of Aaron, along with the descendants of the tribe of Levi were in charge of these rules and the rule keeping. Rule keeping became the focus of the Jewish people as if being perfectly obedient to the rules put you in right standing with the Father. But no one became a perfect person by religiously adhering to a set of rules.

A priest is a “go-between.” Some one who represents others, intercedes for others, mediates for others, sacrifices for others before God. Jesus perfectly fits the definition of High Priest, but the author of Hebrews continues to make a very important distinction, that Jesus was not a High Priest  in the traditional, Law of Moses prescribed genetic line of Aaron. Jesus was a High Priest in the line of the cosmic, eternal, mysterious figure of Melchizedek.

Why is this important? It tells us that perfection of religious rule keeping was never the point to earning God the Father’s love any more than my love for Taylor and Madison being hinged on the perfection of their keeping the rules of my house. We are loved by God inherently because we are His uniquely beautiful, lovable, valuable, and capable creation. So loved, in fact, that Father God (God for us) made the ultimate sacrifice of sending Jesus (God with us) to free us from our silly religious rule keeping and to show us the deep, abiding, full, limitless, abounding, abundant LOVE that defines God. When conversing with God the Father, Jesus used the word “Abba” which is defined more commonly as we would use “Daddy,” “Papa,” or “Pops.” Jesus came as Priest, Mediator, and Sacrifice so we could understand that kind of loving relationship with Father God.

This morning I’m thinking about the ways that the rule-keeping paradigm keeps sucking me back into its false economy. I’m mindfully pondering how I actively continue my process of understanding “Abba” and digging into my relationship with Him. I’m reminding myself this morning of the reality that I know deeply as a father of Taylor and Madison: It was never about the rules, or the rule keeping. I am loved inherently for who I am as God’s child.