Tag Archives: Sacrifice

Vertical and Horizontal

Vertical and Horizontal (CaD Heb 13) Wayfarer

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Hebrews 13:15-16 (NIV)

I began yesterday with coffee and an English muffin at a friend’s office. We chatted about what is going on in each other’s lives. We shared about the challenges we’re facing with family, work, and our bodies that are feeling the natural strains of age. We prayed together. It was a good start to the day.

It was St. Patrick’s Day, so Wendy and I knocked off of work a little early and met friends in the late afternoon for a pint and some Irish music. As the after-work crowds began to swell we were on our way to pick up pizza and retire to their house where we continued sharing life and conversation. Their college-age child was home on Spring Break and we got the whole 411 on life, studies, and relationships at school.

It was a fun day. It was late by the time we returned home.

In today’s final chapter of Hebrews, the author wraps up his letter with more exhortations to the Hebrew followers of Jesus for whom the letter was addressed. Throughout these instructions are more than subtle allusions to the old sacrificial system of Moses that the author has argued was fulfilled by Jesus and is no longer valid or necessary.

In that old system, there were all sorts of ritual religious sacrifices that an individual was expected to make in order to stay in good standing with God. Of course, like all religious rituals, it is possible for a person to go through the motions without there being a heart or life change, and the author has argued that Jesus has provided the once-for-all sacrifice through His death and resurrection.

“So, are there no more sacrifices?” the author hears his readers asking.

Yes, the author answers. The sacrifice of self just as Jesus taught that His followers must take up their own cross in following Him. Jesus’ word picture tells me that I’m supposed to die to myself, to sacrifice myself for God and others. The author provides a picture of this in continuous sacrifices that are both vertical (me to God) and horizontal (me to others). The vertical sacrifice is that I consciously, willfully stay connected to God through offering my praise and prayer (which is simply conversation). The horizontal sacrifice is my goodness and generosity towards others. Not just physical gifts and needs, but also the generosity and goodness of life and spirit through relationships and sharing the life journey together.

Which made me think of my day yesterday. Along my life journey, I’ve experienced that good relationships, the kind that is mutually and spiritually life-giving, require the ongoing generosity of time, conscious thought, intention, energy, vulnerability, and grace. Over time and in every case, every one of those ingredients becomes sacrificial for me as my friends may need more from me at certain times than I can comfortably provide. But the same is true on the other side of the equation. I need them at times and in ways that require their sacrificial generosity.

With Jesus, I can never get around the reality that He emptied Himself, left heaven, came to Earth, and endured the suffering of a horrific death. He sacrificed everything for me. I can ignore that fact. I might allow other thoughts and distractions to drive it from my mind, but it’s always there. What is asked of me in return? To live in a relationship that is essentially no different than my horizontal ones: time, conscious thought, intention, energy, vulnerability, and generosity that comes out in worship, prayer, life, obedience, trust, hope, and perseverance.

I’m grateful this morning for life-giving relationships, both horizontal and vertical.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Sober Truth

The Sober Truth (CaD Heb 9) Wayfarer

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many…
Hebrews 9:27-28a (NIV)

This past week I began listening to an audiobook recommended by a friend, entitled Imagine Heaven by John Burke. The author was a self-avowed skeptic who spent some 30 years gathering and studying stories from all over the world of those who have had a Near Death Experience (NDE); Individuals who were clinically dead, briefly experienced what comes next, and then were sent back.

Here’s the truth: I’m dying. I’m not sure I could begin my week with a more sobering observation, but it is true. According to the scientists who study these things, I reached the pinnacle of my physical development between 25 (muscle strength) and 30 (bone mass). From that point forward, despite the fact that I am probably more fit for my age than I was back then, my body is in slow but steady decline. Fortunately, the mind, psyche, and spirit can still grow and develop through the life journey despite my brain processing power peaking at age 18. Nevertheless, I cannot escape the fact that my body is making a persistent and irreversible descent towards death.

In today’s chapter, the author of Hebrews continues to compare the covenant and sacrificial system that God prescribed for Moses and the Hebrew people to the new covenant established by Jesus through His sacrificial death. At the beginning of the Great Story, Adam and Eve’s sin ushered in the reality of death:

“By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:19 (NIV)

From the beginning, humanity has, by and large, fought death, feared death, and sought to escape death. Along my life journey, I’ve observed that most people living a life of relative wealth, freedom, and affluence tend to distract themselves from thinking about it at all. Some are so enamored with the distractions that their indulgence leads to the very thing they were trying to distract themselves from thinking about. Then I’ve observed a few are so dissatisfied, wearied, or wounded that they prefer death to empty distractions.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about death as a follower of Jesus. Today’s chapter lays out quite plainly that Jesus suffered His horrific death in fulfillment of a once-and-for-all sacrifice that not only made Moses’ old sacrificial system obsolete, it completely transforms my perception of death. Jesus taught that death is the gateway to Life. Death is no longer something I need to fight but something to welcome. It is no longer something to fear, but to celebrate. It is no longer something to escape, but to embrace. The many testimonies of those who experience NDEs concur. One of the common themes of those who were given a taste of heaven is the fact that they didn’t want to come back.

If I truly believe what I say I believe, and death is not something I need to fear or ignore via distraction, how does that inform what I do with my life today? For me, I find that it frees me to live more intentionally with the eternal in mind. My physical descent towards earthly death is ultimately leading toward an ascent to eternal life. My purpose each day on this earthly path of descent is to love God with everything I’ve got while loving others as I love myself as Jesus laid out as the way of trust, lament, humility, justice, compassion, right motive, peacemaking, surrender, and radical love.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Gray

The Gray (CaD Heb 7) Wayfarer

The former regulation [the Law of Moses] 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)

I have a confession to make this morning, As the youngest of four children, seven years younger than my eldest twin brothers, I took full advantage of my birth position. Some of this was good. For example, I remember observing what patterns of behavior and/or argument actually escalated our parents’ anger and frustration. Not only was the conflict unpleasant but it never worked out well for my sibling. I correspondingly avoided making those same mistakes and had a relatively pleasant childhood and adolescence in the department of parental relations.

It wasn’t all good, however. Being the youngest also afforded me the opportunity of learning how and when to take advantage of skirting rules and, by and large, how to get away with it. The age gap between me and my twin brothers was key to this. When I was twelve, my brother Tim was 19. At little sibs weekend at the University, I not only got to enjoy attending a college keg party and drinking beer but also made a lasting memory with my brother. Tim had me stand around the keg with him. When cute girls came to fill their red solo cups, Tim leveraged the novelty of my presence to find out who they were as he introduced me as his genius little brother who was a Freshman at the university that year.

Long story short, I learned along the way that rules were meant to be skirted, not broken. I became quite adept at getting away with all sorts of things as I stealthily discovered a parallel dimension of gray that existed (at least in my perception) around the black-and-white rules.

In today’s chapter, the author of the letter to the early Hebrew followers of Jesus is explaining how the Jewish priesthood and Law of Moses have been completed and transformed by Jesus. The Law of Moses took sinful humans born to Aaron and Levi and made them part of a human system of rules, rituals, and sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin. The human priest first had to atone for his own sin so he could then atone for the sins of the people. Jesus was the sinless, spotless once-and-for-all sacrifice, risen from the dead, and existing eternally at the right hand of the Father, a forever high priest. He is not a priest of the Law of Moses, the author declares, but of the mysterious eternal order of Melchizedek that is older and greater than the Law of Moses.

The author boldly states that the Law of Moses was “weak” and “useless” arguing that rules can never make a person perfect. Ah, there’s the rub. Religious rule-keeping never deals with the self-centered motives and uncontrollable appetites at the core of the human heart. In my case, it was my personal motives and appetites that fueled my finding of gray areas in which I justified skirting rules for my own personal pleasures and advantages.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking back to some of the things I used to get away with skirting rules, from silly to the somewhat sinister. I may have gotten away with a lot of things, but my heart knew that it wasn’t right. I knew, even at a young age, that I needed more than just rules. I needed to deal with the core issues of a self-centered heart and appetites run amok. I discovered what the author of Hebrews is revealing, Jesus who became the ultimate sacrifice for my core heart issues, an eternal, living high-priest who understands my weaknesses and receives me with mercy and grace.

It still doesn’t make me perfect, but it does make me forgiven. I am no longer bound to rules that only prove that good, I am not. I am freed to live out the love, and good, that I ought.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Faith Challenge

Faith Challenge (CaD Gen 22) Wayfarer

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Genesis 22:2 (NIV)

Today’s chapter is one of the most profound and mysterious events in the Great Story. Scholars explain that there is nothing like it in other ancient cultures or religions with regard to their stories, texts, or religious rituals. Even within the Great Story it is unique. God tells Abraham to make another journey of faith “to a mountain I will show you” where he will sacrifice his own beloved son, Isaac.

WHAT?!

I know. It’s a head scratcher.

As I meditated on the story this morning, I had three observations.

First, this is the climax of Abraham’s story. From this point on, Abraham is making preparations for he and Sarah’s burials, getting Isaac marries, and settling his inheritance. This climactic event bookends the beginning of Abraham’s story.

When we first meet Abraham God tells him to pick-up leave his family, tribe, and home and follow God to a “land I will show you.” In a sense, God told Abraham “leave that which you know and love (e.g. your home and tribe), have faith to follow me.” The faith journey results in the promised son, Isaac. Isaac is the object of Abraham’s love. Now God calls Abraham to leave once more “to a mountain I will show you,” to bring with him what he loves (e.g. his son) and sacrifice him to God. It is an ultimate test of faith.

I couldn’t help but think about Peter and John on the shores of Galilee in the final chapter of John’s biography of Jesus. There is a parallel “bookending” of their faith journeys. It was on this shore that Jesus first said, “Follow me.” Now, the resurrected Christ once again calls them to follow, this time informing Peter that it will ultimately lead to suffering and death.

A faith journey doesn’t end in this earthbound lifetime. One doesn’t retire, nor do things get easier before the journey’s end. In Abraham’s case, in Peter’s case, you find yourself circling back to the beginning and the challenges of faith only get harder.

Second, Abraham’s statement to Isaac (“God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”) proves to be both a statement of faith and a prophetic foreshadowing of the climactic end to this event. It springs from everything Abraham has experienced in his relationship with God through the years. God has made the covenant with Abraham, God has led Abraham to the land as promised. God has given Abraham a son as promised. As crazy and extreme as God’s request sounds, Abraham draws on all that God has done to make this ultimate faith journey.

We don’t like to talk about it much in our culture, but Jesus regularly told His followers that the faith journey required giving everything. Like Abraham, it might mean leaving family behind. Like Abraham, it requires faith to provide an ultimate sacrifice, taking up one’s own cross and following to the crucifixion of self.

Third, the foreshadowing of Jesus’ story in the events of today’s chapter can’t be ignored. In asking Abraham to sacrifice the son he loves, he unwittingly becomes a living metaphor of God himself, who will one day give His beloved Son as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. God providing Abraham a ram to sacrifice in place of Isaac introduces the notion of substitutionary sacrifice. At the time of Abraham, this was a wholly unique concept.

“God will provide the lamb,” Abraham presciently states to Isaac.

Another bookend. We are in the beginning chapters of the Great Story. Themes are being introduced, foundations laid, as well as foreshadows of what’s to come. In the final chapters of the Great Story, John is given a Revelation of the throne room of heaven.

Those gathered worship singing. Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

The story of Abraham is the seminal event in what will ultimately be God’s act of redemption. Abraham blazes the trail of faith. Abraham foreshadows what God is going to do. Abraham’s faith echoes through history past, it resonates through the crucified Christ, and it is transmitted into the prophesied future.

God will provide the Lamb.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“Some Other Mettle”

"Some Other Mettle" (CaD Ps 146) Wayfarer

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.

Psalm 146:3 (NIV)

Many years ago, our little town had a local Shakespeare Company that would produce a play each summer in the local park. Wendy and I were cast in Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy about a man and woman who despise one another and how this couple falls in love. Wendy was cast as the female lead, Beatrice, who in the beginning of the play waxes cynical about romance. When asked if she will every marry, she replies, “Not till God make men of some other mettle than earth.”

That line came to mind this morning as I meditated on today’s chapter, Psalm 146, in which the lyrics warn those listening to the song to avoid putting trust in human beings.

Along my life journey, I have observed that human systems almost always end up serving those who control them, unless those who control them have the rare quality of being both humble enough to eschew personal gain in order to serve everyone in the system and having the authority to ensure it stays that way.

Thus Beatrice waxes cynical to find a man who will serve her, honor her, and treat her as an equal partner rather than as a possession and chattel as human systems treated wives through most of human history.

Thus families become dysfunctional and unhealthy systems that end up hurting the ones they are supposed to protect and prepare for perpetuating healthy marriages and families for the next generation.

Thus organizations intended to serve the good of many become rackets that line the pride and pockets of the few in power at the top of the org chart.

Thus businesses established with eloquent vision and mission statements about valuing employees and exceptional service to customers end up cutting jobs and providing the least acceptable levels of service in order to eek out a few more pennies of dividend for shareholders.

Thus governments (of every type and “ism”) end up with those at the top offices rigging the system for themselves and their cronies while paying lip service to helping those living hand-to-mouth on a day-by-day basis.

I know this sounds cynical, yet I feel for where Beatrice is coming from. And, I have to confess that as a follower of Jesus I find myself in the quiet this morning hearing the words of Jesus and the teachings that call me to act against the grain of the systems of this world:

“Whoever wants to be ‘great’ and lead others but become the servant of all.”

“Husbands, love your wives sacrificially, even as Jesus showed us what love is by sacrificing Himself to save us.”

“Fathers, don’t exasperate your children.”

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone.”

Do you have individuals who work for you? Then treat them the way you want to be treated, the way that Jesus has treated you, and the way Jesus has called you to do. From a sincere heart, respect them, treat them honorably, and compensate them for the good they do.”

In find it fascinating that Jesus arguably never directly addressed those who were in control of systems of human power. The only one He did address was the Hebrew religious system who were supposed to recognize Him, but killed Him to protect their power, privilege, and profits. When given the opportunity to address the political powers of His day, King Herod and the Roman Empire, he largely kept His mouth shut.

In the quiet this morning, my mind wanders back to Beatrice and her mail foil, Benedict. Through the course of the play they have a change of heart, and you can guess where that leads. All good stories are a reflection of the Great Story, and therein I see a reflection of what Jesus was about. Jesus was not about creating or changing humans systems of power in order to, top-down, force God’s will over individuals. That’s nothing more than using the world’s playbook against itself, and I only have to look at the headlines to see how that’s working out. Jesus’ taught that the Kingdom of God paradigm is to change the hearts of individuals in order to motivate love and service to others, that in turn creates change within human systems of power from the bottom-up. It’s what He demonstrated on the cross, when the sacrifice of One served to effect change in the many, who effected change in many more.

I hear Wendy in the kitchen making my blueberry spinach smoothie, and it’s time to wrap-up my time of quiet this morning. As I do, I find myself taking a personal inventory of life and spirit. As a husband, as a father, as a grandfather, as an employer, and as a organizational leader in my community, am I reflecting the character of humility, servant-heartedness, honor, respect, and generosity to which Jesus has called me? Immediately, things come to mind to which I need to add to my task list. I better get started.

Have a great day, my friend.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.


Another Choice

Another Choice (CaD Ex 29) Wayfarer

…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.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

God Friended Me

God Friended Me (CaD Ex 28) Wayfarer

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.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

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.

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.

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.