Naming Your Food

lamb

Growing up, I lived on what some might call a “gentleman’s farm”.  We had chickens and horses, and my dad also invested in few head of cattle just to stock the freezer and sell to a few close friends.  Being one of three girls, every critter that lived on our property received a lot of love and most importantly, a name.  We started out naming chickens after friends and family members, but the cows eventually received steak-related names.  There was Porter House, T-bone, Chuck and Patty…Some people might have found it offensive, but to us country folk it was a bit humorous to sit around the table and discuss which chicken we were having for dinner – by name.  It did, however, add an extra level of reflection when it came time to slaughter the animals.

For four hundred years the Hebrew people were in slavery in Egypt, and God used Moses to bring them out of bondage and head down the path to the promised land.  God used a series of ten plagues to reveal His power and majesty to the Hebrew people and through the Egyptians.  He turned all of the water in Egypt to blood, He sent locusts, frogs and gnats, He blocked the sun and many other signs.  But the final plague was the death of the first born son in every household and of every animal.  This most extreme of the plagues was the breaking point for the Egyptians and the culmination of God’s work in the land.  Up until this final plague, God had simply chosen to withhold the plagues from the Hebrew slaves.  With the final plague, however, God gave the Hebrews careful instructions which they were to follow to designate themselves as followers of God and to have their children spared:  They were to take a one year old male lamb which had no blemish on it, they were to kill it and wipe its blood on their door frame and eat it.  When the angel of death passed over, it would see the blood and leave their house untouched.

Because of this monumental movement of God and the foreshadowing of Jesus it represented, an annual festival was kept to remember the event known as the “Passover” – when the angel of death passed over the people of God who were marked by the blood of the lamb.  It was a week-long event, during which people ate unleavened bread, did no work and kept a lamb in the house with them until the time for its slaughter.  The lamb, after living in the house, would become like a pet.  It would be personalized, loved and cared for.  And then it would be slaughtered an eaten.  They would name and love their food and their sacrifice.

When Jesus came, He fulfilled the prophesy of the suffering Messiah and He also fulfilled the Law of sacrifice by becoming the final and the perfect Passover lamb.  Everyone knew that the death of an animal did not relieve the guilt of sin from a person – it was an action one could take to offer sacrifice before God and suffer through the loss of an asset, looking forward to the true scapegoat of Jesus.  Jesus, however, became sin on our behalf – as a man having never sinned – so that our guilt is actually punished in Him and removed.  This is why sacrifices are no longer needed!  Jesus completed the system!

Jesus, however, was a man and not a lamb.  He lived on the Earth for approximately 33 years, had a fruitful ministry for three years during which time He intimately trained eleven men who would take the Gospel to the world and make disciples.  He had a name, He was loved, He was the Spiritual leader who brought grace to a lost and dying world.

It is a strange concept, and probably considered inhumane by some, to name and bond with one’s food.  Most of us prefer to not think about the slaughter and preparation it takes to prepare that hamburger or steak while we eat our dinners.  We must, however, know and love that sacrificial lamb who took our guilt by suffering our punishment by his crucifixion and death.  In fact, the more we know Him and the more we love Him, the more unthinkable the suffering that we caused.  When we first hear the Gospel, when our hearts are first opened to receive its truth, we fundamentally recognize our guilt and fate in the light of a holy God and we are amazed that grace is offered to us by the sacrifice and punishment of another.  But Jesus is no longer dead – God raised Him from the dead and as Christians we abide in Him and enjoy Him through fellowship!

Thus, the more we get to know Him, the more we love and enjoy Him, as our passion deepens for Him, the more we realize our guilt and the depth of our sin, then the more we are broken by causing Him pain and suffering.  This love for Him leads to our repentance an change.  Scripture says that if we continue sinning after coming to know Him and the Gospel, we are nailing Him back to the cross:

“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”

– Heb 6.4-6

Our sacrifice has a name:  Jesus.  He loves us and invites us to know and have a relationship with Him by confessing and repenting of our sins, and trusting His work on the cross to cover our guilt.  He forgives us.  Let us therefore get to know Him, spend time with Him, love Him and cherish Him.  The more intimate we grow with Him, the more detestable we will find our sin because it is our sin alone the required His death on the cross.  We will run from sin because it puts Him to open shame and essentially nails Him back on the cross.  It breaks His heart and grieves the Spirit when we sin.  And the longer we have the lamb of God living in our house the more we will love Him and desire to not hurt Him.  Let’s remember Him today.

When someone doesn’t like you.

hatred

I am a pretty adventurous person.  I like to get out, try new things, meet new people, stretch the boundaries.  But even with an independent personality, I still want people to like me…just like everyone else.  Sometimes we build up facades or walls because of past hurt, claiming that we do not care what other people think, and we each have some non-negotiables on which we will take a social, political or relational stand, but by-in-large we try to put our best foot forward so that people will respect and like us.  Deep within this desire is an underlying pride.  We do not want people to like us simply because we want to be friends with everyone, we want affirmation.  We want praise.  We want people to admire, think well of and build us up.

As believers, is it right and good to build one another up.  Scripture regularly admonishes us to put the needs of the body before our own (James 1.27ff), to push one another on to holiness (Heb 10.24), and husbands should love their wives and wives should respect their husbands (Eph 5.22-25).  Leaders within the church should be people of good reputation and Jesus says that the world will know that we are Christians because of our love – which means we honor and respect one another (2 Tim 3, John 13.35).

However, as believers, we must remember and be convicted of the fact that there is no righteousness in and of ourselves and that we desperately need a savior (Rom 3.10ff).  When we are saved, Christ switches places with us – taking our condemnation and giving us a covering of His righteousness.  Because of this fact, we can and should glory in the victory that God grants us over sin in our lives, but we should also be the most humble of people.  When we recognize our guilt, and when we comprehend the cost of the sacrifice required to save us, we will become exceedingly humble.  We see our worthlessness and the weight of our salvation, and are left as the beneficiary of a completely undeserved gift and inheritance.

True Christians are thankful.  True Christians are humble.  True Christians know from where they came, and praise God for their priceless gift and all progress made in dying to sin.  True Christians offer abundant grace to one another, recognizing the fact that we are all in the battle against our flesh and push one another on to die to the flesh and sin.  True Christians recognize the deceit and horror of sin and do not make peace with it in their lives or in other’s lives and purposefully walk together to remove sin from our lives so that we can honor God, all with a humble attitude knowing our own weakness.

However, there are non Christians who infiltrate the Church.  There are also non Christians in our daily lives:  coworkers, family members, neighbors, people on the street, etc.  There are also Christians who have fallen into sin and harbor bitterness and resentment in their hearts.  It will happen in each of our lives that there comes a day when someone does not like us.

How should we respond?

First of all, we must examine the situation to see if we have sinned against this person and make every effort to apologize and rectify the situation.  If we are left without resolution and the other person still has a hard heart against us, then we have an intricate and beautiful situation.  Jesus teaches us to love our enemies (Matt 5.44).  He also teaches us that when someone will not receive us and the Gospel we proclaim, we should walk away and not waste our energy (Matt 10.14).  Lastly, He teaches us that if someone proclaims to be a believer and yet continues in sin (in this situation, harbors bitterness in his heart), to completely disassociate with him and remove him from the church (Matt 18.15-17).

But in all of this, our heart must remain humble.  How do we do that?  By remembering our own guilt and the weight of the unmerited gift of salvation we have received.  Charles Spurgeon said simply,

“If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be.”

– Charles Spurgeon

If any one person thinks ill of us, it is not because he knows the depths of our depravity.  It is because he knows a small amount of it.  This nonbeliever has never come to understand forgiveness for himself, and thus still judges those around him with a human judgment and even if the offense was a misunderstanding, we remain humble by remembering God’s gift of salvation while we were His enemies (Rom 5.10).  Instead of responding in pride, we should always respond in humility.  If someone makes a character assessment, we should examine ourselves to see if it is true, ask Jesus to change us, and remember our guilt before Him – relying on Him to change us!  Once we have made every effort to rectify the situation, however, we move on and remember that God looks down and sees the blood of Jesus covering our sin and we are righteous in His eyes.

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

He who has been forgiven much loves much.

Are you a Spiritual wimp?

wimp-kid

Today is a day for introspection.  We have hit 80 degrees a few times over the past two weeks, and right now it is 34 degrees outside and the snow is dumping on us.  My husband and I haven’t had a vacation since September and we can feel the weight of the mundane wearing on us.  Small things are irritants, life is dull, you know the feeling – the “we need a vacation” feeling.  And then I stop and consider the calling on our lives and the reality which so many Christians around the world are living:  The call to come and die.

‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.’

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I once was on a mission trip.  We had gone out into a Muslim county where it is illegal to evangelize and were intentionally seeking opportunities to talk about Jesus.  We had been in a community for nearly a week and seen three people come to faith when we got word that there was severe persecution happening just a community away:  people’s houses were being burned down, brand new baby Christians were being put in “reindoctrination camps” and people were fleeing for their lives.  The boss over the Americans said that we had to get out.  Safety was their primary concern.  The nationals who had accompanied our team, however, were committed to the work and had given their word that they would baptize these new believers the next day and they said to us tearfully, “You go ahead, we will stay behind”.  We spent the evening in prayer over them, the new believers and the community suffering persecution, and shamefully, we left them behind.  They followed us just twenty four hours later, safely, having kept their word to baptize and follow up with these new believers, and we Americans cowered in the safety of our hotel in the big city.

I have thought back on that situation with shame and regret many times.  It was decided by my superior that we had to leave, so sometimes I like to blame shift.  I also had responsibility for a handful of people, so I justify the flight with the excuse that I could not make the decision for everyone that they were willing to suffer the consequences, should they come.  But those national partners who were committed to the mission, no matter the cost, have forever inspired and left a mark on my soul.

Jesus Christ did not suffer so that you would not suffer, but so that when you suffer you might become like him. The Bible/Christianity/The Gospel does not promise you better life circumstances, it promises you a better life.

– Tim Keller

We have built for ourselves such comfortable little bubbles that the inconvenience of the internet being slow can ruin our day and attitudes.  We believe the lie that we should all be happy, comfortable and well fed that we get irritated and argue over who should put the ice cream away.  Working forty hours a week is a drain and all we want to do is have the weekend to ourselves.  Right?

How can we refocus our hearts to remember the things of God?  How can we get committed on the level that we love and serve God even when we are tired?

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house.”

– Heb 3.1-2

We need to continually consider Jesus.  Yes, I know it is cliche to say, “Jesus is our perfect example”.  But what do we really mean by that?  Is He your example in how you go to work?  In how you love your spouse?  In how you serve your friends?  In how you sacrifice for the Gospel?

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant,and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

– Phil 2.5-8

Jesus left him home in Heaven, as king, to live on Earth and to be a servant on the Earth.  He never had a home of His own, He suffered persecution and hatred and was murdered.  Is that your example?  Humility, sacrifice, and patience through tribulation?

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.  If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

– 1 Peter 4.12-14

For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.

– 2 Cor 1.5

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

– Phil 3.8-11

Jesus calls us to take up our cross.  He calls us to put one another before ourselves.  He calls us to love as He loved, to His glory and honor. He calls us to live and sacrifice for the cause of the Gospel.  He bids us come and die.  How are you doing today?

It is no sacrifice.

livingstone

David Livingstone was a national hero to England int he 19th century.  Born poor, he studied and worked himself to prosperity, he was a scientist – who loved research and exploration, he crusaded against slavery while leading expeditions to explore Africa, most notably seeking the source of the Nile River.  But his entrepreneurial spirit and passions were only trumped by his love for God and he gave himself up ultimately as a martyr in Zambia, while serving as a missionary to Africa.  People did not understand his choices, but they were challenged and intrigued by his work, which spearheaded the exploration and colonization of central and southern Africa.

In 1857 he came home and was speaking to the students at the University of Cambridge.  At this point people glorified his missionary efforts as an “ultimate sacrifice”, and this was his response:

Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter?

– David Livingstone

There are a variety of types of Christians and missionaries.  There are those who seek to use their reputation and service as a means to self-glorification and fame.  But there are also those who truly believe the promises of Scripture, that this life is fading, that true treasures are found in Heaven, that God has called us to take the Truth to the World, and that He will provide everything we need in order to do so.  David Livingstone was the latter type.  If we believe and obey the commandments of Scripture, it is indeed no sacrifice to obey Jesus, store up treasures in Heaven, and to live this life with the peace of the knowledge of our obedience and submission to Jesus.

Do you trust Jesus?  Do you believe His Word and promises to be true?  Have you spent your life building up your retirement, working a job simply for the income, and living for the weekend when you get to relax with your family and friends?  Or do you believe that God will provide your needs and give up your life to obey Him, making disciples?  Jim Elliot, David Livingstone, and many many others have taken Jesus at His word and lived lives of obedience.  Will you?

One thing every Christian needs to know.

So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground.  Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering;  but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard.  So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.  Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

– Gen 4.3-8

The first people that God created were Adam and Eve.  They had two children, named Cain and Abel.  These guys were generation #2.  It appears as though God Himself established the ritual of sacrifice when Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden; He took an animal and killed it, using the skin to make new clothing for Adam and Eve (Gen 3.21).  Scripture tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Heb 9.22), and even though the Law will not be established whereby God defined how sacrifices should be made, everyone made sacrifices from Adam and Eve until Moses (to whom the Law was given directly, and by whom the Law was declared to the people).

So it is understandable that Cain and Abel made sacrifices to the Lord.  We also know, from the Law, that the first fruits of the land were brought to God as sacrifices (Ex 22.29, 34.26, Lev 2).  So Cain’s sacrifice was not displeasing to God in that it was not meat, rather the condition of his heart.  That is why it says God had no regard “for Cain and his offering”, not simply that He had no regard for Cain’s offering.  Cain’s heart was wrong.  And his countenance fell when God regarded Abel and not him.

And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.

God warned Cain.  The picture here is vibrant:  sin is crouching at the door, hiding, contemplating, waiting its perfect opportunity to jump in and take advantage of weakness.  And its desire is for us.  The same phrase is used when Eve was cursed for eating the forbidden fruit: her desire would be for her husband (Gen 3.16).  Sin wants control.  The curse for Eve would be that Adam rules over her while she yearns for control.  And sin, within our flesh – our bodies – our natural makeup – yearns for control and dominion.

The picture here is not lost on us today.  Some would argue that since we are now post-Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit living within us and Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the cross, and therefore we can live however we want to live.  We, because of our relationship with Him, do not have to fight sin or worry about it crouching at the door.  But the commandment of the Law, to conquer sin, was rooted in the same foundation then and now.  It was in the Law that God commanded,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.5

Jesus quoted the Law when He said that.  And it was through this love that the Israelites were instructed to keep that Law.  Likewise, it is from our love and thankfulness of forgiveness that we seek to obey.  We are not trying to earn favor with God, but when we truly love and are in relationship with Him, we want to strive to not grieve the Spirit or crucify Jesus again by sinning (Eph 4.30, Heb 6.6).  Cain had a face-to-face relationship with God, whereby they spoke to one another verbally.  That is how he knew that he and his sacrifice were not accepted by Him, and how he was warned to get himself under control.

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.17

Therefore let us consider and let us heed God’s warning.  We must master sin because it is crouching at the door, waiting for our weakness to present itself.  It is setting its desire against the Spirit within us.  It is actively seeking the opportunity.

But we must master it. 

Not for the sake of earning God’s favor, but as the proof that we have already been shown grace through forgiveness.  You and I cannot master sin in our own strength.  It must be the power of the Spirit working through us.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

– Gal 2.20

Therefore the mark of the believer is one who sets out to conquer sin.  The one in whom Christ lives and conquers sin.  The one who loves God and by the power of the Spirit honors God by putting to death the deeds of the flesh.  You cannot do it.  So let Christ reign in your mortal body, let Him do it, and thus honor Him.

Cain failed.  He did not heed God’s word and turned around and murdered Abel.  And because of his actions, his entire lineage was cursed.  God spared Cain’s life, but put upon him a spiritual mark whereby everyone who would seek to kill him was prevented – but also whereby everyone know of his sin and plight (Gen 3.15).  For the rest of his life.  Let us not be like Cain.  Let us conquer sin, by the power of the Spirit living in and through us.

cain and abel

Why do you do what you do?

Asceticism.  “Severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons” (Google Online Dictionary).

Piety has taken a variety of forms throughout the ages.  Anytime human beings have the opportunity to take something pure and taint or ruin it, they will.  Adam and Eve, the first man and woman had two sons:  Cain and Abel.  Abel had a good heart and made sacrifices to God through the abundance of his love for God.  Cain had an evil heart and made sacrifices with bad motives.  He because jealous of Abel and killed him because God was pleased with Abel and not him (Gen 4).

God gave Moses a Law, His perfect Law, to establish Israel as His chosen people from amongst the nations.  God promised that if the Israelites kept His commandments that He would bless them and establish them.  The first and primary law was that they were to Love the Lord their God with all of their hearts and with all of their souls and with all of their might (Deut 6.5).  This morphed into religious piety where the priests kept the letter of the Law – the outward actions – without a love for God.  They wanted to look good, and they had the authority of the Torah on their side.  Jesus ultimately called them wicked.

After nearly 400 years of severe persecution, Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.  No longer were Christians hunted down and killed for their beliefs, but the Church was established as not only a part, but an essential part of the community and kingdom.  Church offices were coveted, bought, and inhabited by non believers who wanted to look holy for their own personal pride and gain.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on living a sold-out life for Christ:  No Earthly Good.  I discussed the misconception that someone who is completely focused on God, eternity and living a life of purpose would be “no earthly good”.  The conversation arose, then, how do we avoid religious asceticism?  Piety?  These tendencies into which we so easily fall.

Firstly, think of the mindset of an ascetic.  It is one who deprives himself.  When we are in Christ, we are a new creature.   “The old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5.17).  God removes our hearts of stone and gives us a heart of flesh that is soft and tender towards Him (Ez 36.26).  When we come to Christ, it is no longer us who lives, but Jesus living through us (Gal 2.20).  As we love God, we begin to cherish the things that He cherishes and hate the things that he hates.  We hate sin.  We hate frivolity.  We hate wasting our lives and building up treasures for ourselves on Earth.

Sin is attractive.  No one chooses to sin because they do not want to.  It feels good for a season.  We want to be comfortable and look out for #1.  Paul said, “No on hates his own body” (Eph 5.29), so the way in which we care for ourselves is the way that we are to care for one another.  The commandment here, then, is not that we neglect ourselves but that we look out for others to the same degree that we look out for ourselves.

But the key is our motivation.  We do not die to sin out of obligation, duty or trying to prove ourselves.  We die to sin because as we love God, we develop a heart after His own heart, and we begin to hate the things that he hates.  We despise our sin, if for no other reason than that it breaks His heart and makes Him angry.  We also, as we love God more deeply and fully, no longer cherish the things that do not glorify Him: those things that might be morally neutral, but offer no benefit to ourselves or the Kingdom.  To put away silliness and worldly pleasures is a joy as we get to spend more time with God and purposefully honoring Him.

Therefore, our motivation is not self deprivation.  Our motivation is honoring and glorifying God.  It is Christ living through us.  When it is not Christ living through us, we work out of our own strength and we get worn out.  Burnout.  Pastors, missionaries, lay people all suffer from burnout on occasion.  And it’s sole cause is imbalance and working in our own strength.  The moment I try to do something for God, I am working in my own strength, I get frustrated when I do not see the results that I want or expect, and I lose heart.  Or perhaps great results are happening, and I invest too much time and I get exhausted and physically break.

So what does that look like practically?  I heard it taught one time that to maintain balance, we should never let ourselves get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired – HALT.  A good ministerial and life application could also be to never get too hungry, tired or busy.  God has created us with limited bodies.  Bodies that require that we be unconscious for 1/3 of our lives.  Bodies that require food and exercise to perform well.  And it is our responsibility to take care of those bodies (1 Cor 6.19).  It is also our responsibility to maintain balance in priorities.  God is always our first priority (Deut 6.5).  Then your spouse if you are married, then children, and then everyone/everything else.  That is why Paul says it is better to not get married, because you are free to invest all of your time in the work (1 Cor 7.32-33).  We never make good decisions if we have not spent time with the Lord and are being led by His Spirit.  We struggle to make good decisions if we are hungry, tired and busy.

It is a heart cultivation.  If you cherish God, the things you enjoy become a time to rejoice in Him.  For instance, I enjoy riding my motorcycle.  I am not necessarily in deep mediation or prayer the entire time that I’m on my bike, but I do pray a lot.  And sing.  And look at the beauty of creation.  And work the bike.  The seclusion of a helmet and loud pipes is nice for reflection.  But I enjoy the Lord while I enjoy His creation and His wonderful gifts of motorcycles.  I also play the piano.  When I was studying performance piano in college, those five hours of practicing classical music every day were not always intentional notes played directly to God, but perfecting the pieces to the best of my ability and singing praises intermittently kept Him the focus and glorified Him by doing my best to honor Him.

If your focus is self deprivation, self glorification, or doing something for God as though He needs it, your strength will fail.  We must spend daily time with the Lord.  We must bask in His presence, seek His face, and allow the Spirit to live through us.  When He is the one leading and guiding, we work in His strength that will not fail.

Do you buy your child presents on Christmas because it is your duty?  When he says, “This is exactly what I wanted, thank you!”  Do you respond, “Well I’m your parent, I had to buy it for you.”  Or do you buy your child presents because you love them and want to make them happy?  Do you bring your wife roses on your anniversary because that is what is expected and you say “Here are the roses that I am required to buy you”, or do you give her roses lovingly to make her happy and to show her how much you care?

In the same way we do not begrudgingly stop any habit or spend time reading our Bibles.  We come to God because we love Him, we stop habits that do not honor Him and we enjoy spending time with Him.  If you do not cherish Him, ask Him to give you a new heart – a heart that loves Him for who He is, not for the gifts that He gives.  Not for the benefit of salvation from Hell.  But because He is God.  John Piper says that Christians are hedonists – that loving God is truly our greatest joy and pleasure, and we should seek our greatest joy and pleasure by loving Him.  We are not ascetics, denying ourselves and suffering for the sake of piety.

How costly is your praise?

“Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.”

– Heb 13.15

I grew up singing a popular praise chorus called “We bring the sacrifice of praise” by Kirk Dearman, and for years I wondered why we would possibly call the praise of God a sacrifice.  In particular, the praise offered through singing.

I play the piano.  I studied performance piano during college, and have been involved in music in choirs, bands and accompaniment since I was very young.  Music is a natural outpouring of emotion and self expression for me, and thus I could not understand why someone would call musical praise to God a sacrifice.

When I was in college, my father served at a military post in Germany.  It was just as the war was starting, and my family was separated across two continents.  Struggles and trials during that time led us all to cling to the Lord more tightly, and my mother found and began singing a song regularly, preaching to her own heart, called “I will sing praise”:

I will sing praise, I will lift my voice.
I will sing praise, I’ve made my choice.
I will sing praise, in all I do.
I will sing praise to you.

No matter the storms that come my way.
No matter the trials I may face.
You promise that you will see me through,
So I will trust in you.

This caught my attention and I tucked it away in my memory, but being a selfish college student, I did not fully grasp the weight of the burdens that she and my father were carrying.

Then one day my world fell apart.  My dreams were shattered.  I lost everything that I had in just one moment.  It was not of my doing and there was nothing I could do to change it.  It just was.  I was homeless, jobless, and alone.  Except for my parents and God.  The thought never crossed my mind to get angry at God, blame Him or turn from Him.  He was all I had, and I clung to Him with everything within me.

But I was certainly not singing any praises.

And then it hit me.  The sacrifice of praise about which the the author of Hebrews writes is the praise offered while we bear his reproach (Heb 13.13).  It is essential that we look at context whenever studying a passage of scripture or attempting to apply it to our lives.  Hebrews states that Jesus suffered outside of the gates, and we are to go to Him and join in His reproach!  Some of these people had been imprisoned.  The rest of them had their homes plundered because they went and visited those in prison.  They were oppressed and hated, for the name of Christ.  And they were being exhorted to bring the sacrifice of praise.

Some of the early Christians had the maturity and confidence to rejoice in their suffering (James 1.2), and others to rejoice that they were considered worthy to join in Christ’s afflictions (Acts 5.41).  And the rest of us, when suffering as believers, are encouraged to put aside our hurts, frustrations, and look away from ourselves and praise God.

This is indeed a sacrifice.

Praise is not always a sacrifice.  There are times when it is the overflowing of joy in your heart.  There are times when you are in the presence of God and you cannot help but shout to the whole world the wonder and glory of God.  But there are times when your heart is heavy, you do not understand life’s circumstances, or you are hurt.  It is in these moments we can honor God by looking to Him and not wallowing in our self pity, but praising Him for His goodness, for salvation and for the hope of eternity that we have with and through Him.

The greater the pain that we can lay down to praise and glorify our Father, the greater the value that we bestow upon Him in our hearts and before others because we establish in our hearts that God is more valuable to us than ourselves, our pain, or whatever it is that is causing us distress.  There is a battle for our affections, and we can willfully choose to focus on the hope that we have in Christ Jesus when we are tempted to despair.

My mother also taught me the discipline of counting my blessings.  I grew up singing another well-known hymn called “Count Your Blessings”, and it was almost a joke at times in our household if someone was complaining.  But as an adult, looking back at her example of reflecting on the blessings that we have at all times, but in particular during seasons of pain and struggle, we can foster an attitude and Spirit of thankfulness and praise that glorifies God, turning all glory to Him, and remembering our trials for what they are:  momentary and fleeting afflictions.  Count your blessings.  Bring the sacrifice of praise.  And look to God, do not look at yourself.  He will satisfy you.