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Sacrifice

This Cat Jesus Is a Bad Mother (shut yo’ mouth!)

Advent Season is here! I know that there a few churches that don’t follow the liturgical calendar, so people who are part of those churches don’t fully get Advent. Advent is simply an old word that means “coming.” Advent Season is the time leading up to Christmas when we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Messiah. Each week we focus on a different Advent theme. This week let’s talk about love.

My problem with love is that the world gets it completely wrong. Love is often seen as sappy. It’s touchy-feely. But what happens when the feelings fade? We can’t base any reality on feelings because they come and go like the tide. You can wake up one morning and not “feel” love towards your spouse (especially if you’ve had a fight the night before). But next week you can feel like the luckiest person alive to have your spouse in your life. I go through periods of liking and not liking my own kids (a lot of it depends on their behavior)! But those feelings are not an appropriate way to determine my behavior.
If feelings were the basis for our behavior, we would only be good when we feel positive things towards others. When the feelings fade then we would bail on the relationship.

That’s garbage.

shaft1Jesus gives us a different understanding of love. It’s not some sappy, touchy-feely emotion. I don’t think that was Jesus’s personality at all. He was a hard-workin’ man. The Greek word in the Bible for Jesus’s occupation is tekton, which is simply translated “builder.” Looking at construction in the Ancient Near East, it’s highly likely that Jesus did a lot of work with stone. He’s not a soft man at all. He’s hard, toughened, with rough hands. He’s the man. He’s like John Shaft – this cat Jesus is a bad mother (shut yo’ mouth!). I’m just talkin’ about Jesus (oh, I can dig it!). When Jesus talks about love it’s a very concrete, real thing that is about sacrifice – not about feelings.

He said:

I have loved you as the Father has loved Me. Abide in My love. Follow My example in obeying the Father’s commandments and receiving His love. If you obey My commandments, you will stay in My love. I want you to know the delight I experience, to find ultimate satisfaction, which is why I am telling you all of this. My commandment to you is this: love others as I have loved you. There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends. (John 15:9-13)

Love isn’t weak and soft – it’s tough as nails and enduring. The greatest expression of love is self-sacrifice. This is heroism at its finest, and we understand that. Our art is FILLED with examples of heroic sacrifice as a symbol of genuine love.

This kind of Love is what Jesus is talking about.

Real love says, “I got your back.”
Real love says, “You’re not fighting alone.”
Real love says, “I will jump on the grenade if it means you survive.”

THIS is how we kick off Advent – with this kind of raw, powerful, action-based discussion of love. Jesus came to give us this kind of love. This is EXACTLY what the Apostle Paul was trying to tell the church in Rome:

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)

There was nothing we did to deserve God’s love. We didn’t earn it. But God shows the depth of His love by self-sacrifice even when we were broken and unworthy. Jesus was the kind of guy to jump on the grenade for us so that we could carry on in the fight.
But it doesn’t end there. The real question comes to our response. Now that we have received this kind of love, how will we take it to the world around us? As believers called by His name, we need to be examples of love in this world. Regardless of feelings, which are transitory, we need to be people of love – people who are known to be self-sacrificial for the behalf of those around us.

Love is not my feelings. Love is concrete behavior. Love is Spock sacrificing his own life while telling Kirk, “Live long and prosper.” This is how God treated us. Now let’s be those kind of people to the world.

The Worst Valentine’s Presents EVER!

Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day!

love-903178_1920Regardless of who St. Valentine actually was (yes, he was a real person in human history), the day has become a day for Americans to demonstrate romantic affection towards one another.

As is the custom with significant others, I had in mind to buy wife wife a gift to demonstrate my own affection. Our conversation when something like this:

V-Day

That got me thinking, “What do other people think are the best AND worst gift ideas for Valentine’s Day?” So at church we did something a little different and had some breakout groups. Half the room was to come up with the BEST gifts and the other half was to come up with the WORST gifts.

Some of the Best:

  1. Spa Day
  2. Arranged Baby Sitting
  3. Partner’s favorite thing (guitar, car, etc.)
  4. Tickets to a loved event (sports, music, etc.)

And some of the Worst:

  1. Exercise equipment that wasn’t requested (hey, honey, maybe you should work out more…)
  2. Soap
  3. Socks
  4. Waterbed (and when we split up he took the waterbed with him)

Here’s the thing that bugs me about Valentine’s Day: it’s superficial and shallow. It reduces “love” to romantic feelings and affection. Thinking about love in those terms sells short real love. To use the words of the classic rock band Boston, it’s “more than a feelin’.”

So what is love?

John 3:16,arguably one of the best known Bible verses of all time, says:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The way our language is today I hear people talk about the passage as if God loved the world “SO MUCH.” But that is a poor understanding of the word “so.” The real sense of the word means “in this way.” You could rephrase the verse:

For this is how God loved the world – he gave his only Son….

Love is not a feeling. It’s not about affection and romance. Real love is about concrete action the pursues the well-being of the other. Real love can be costly and is demonstrated by self-sacrifice. Jesus says again in John 15:13:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

sky-195430_1920Man, that kind of sacrifice is moving. It’s Jesus on the cross, paying a price we could never afford to pay on a debt that wasn’t his own. We also see examples in our lives. It’s the Marine or Soldier who jumps on a grenade in order to save the rest of the squad. It’s the parent that jumps in front of a moving vehicle in order to push her child out of the way.

But it’s easy to act in loving ways towards people on our side and towards our loved ones. Jesus takes it a step further.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. ~ Matthew 5

We are called to ACT in loving ways towards others – even towards those who might loath us. This Valentine’s Day please celebrate your affection towards your significant other. That’s a god thing. But remember that REAL love isn’t dependent on affection and emotion, which can shift from day to day.

Real love is a self-sacrificial pursuit of the well-being of another.

For reflection:

  • How have you seen self-sacrificial love played out in your life?
  • Have you ever been able to “love” someone even when you didn’t feel like it?

They Imprisoned the Wrong Man

Image courtesy of sakhorn38 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of sakhorn38 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), or Mounties, have the motto, “We always get our man!” But it’s not always easy to get the right man. Sometimes authorities get the wrong man. In the United States, it is believed that .5% of all major crime convictions are wrongful convictions. While .5% may not seem like much, we’re talking about 10,000 men and women wrongfully accused, convicted, and imprisoned. Perhaps some of you know what it is like to be on the receiving end – to be wrongfully accused, criticized, or attacked.

Jesus was the wrong man. We pick up Jesus’ story in Mark 15.

6 At the festival it was Pilate’s custom to release for the people a prisoner they requested. 7 There was one named Barabbas, who was in prison with rebels who had committed murder during the rebellion. 8 The crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do for them as was his custom. 9 So Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release the King of the Jews for you?” 10 For he knew it was because of envy that the chief priests had handed Him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd so that he would release Barabbas to them instead.

12 Pilate asked them again, “Then what do you want me to do with the One you call the King of the Jews?” 13 Again they shouted, “Crucify Him!” 14 Then Pilate said to them, “Why? What has He done wrong?” But they shouted, “Crucify Him!” all the more. 15 Then, willing to gratify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. And after having Jesus flogged, he handed Him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:6-15)

They Imprisoned the Wrong Man. We see a striking contrast between the prisoners of this story. On one hand you have Jesus, whom was accused of being a rebel and a threat to Rome. His real crime was that he was a threat to the chief priests. They couldn’t allow this “Messiah” to continue to go around and make trouble for them. So they accused him of being a rebel. On the other hand you have Barabbas, a revolutionary fighter who was arrested with an actual group of murderous rebels! But the irony goes even deeper.

Barabbas’ name is Aramaic and literally means “son of the father.” Here stands Jesus, the real Son of the Father, and Pilate asks, “Shall I release this Son of the Father?” and the crowd cries out, “No! Don’t give us that Son of the Father – the one who brings peace and gives life. Give us Barabbas, the son of the father, who is murderous rebel!” In the most cruel of ironies, they imprisoned the wrong man. And so Jesus is handed over to be crucified.

32 Two others—criminals—were also led away to be executed with Him. 33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. [34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”] And they divided His clothes and cast lots. 35 The people stood watching, and even the leaders kept scoffing: “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked Him. They came offering Him sour wine 37 and said, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” 38 An inscription was above Him: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

39 Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? 41 We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:32-43)

They Crucified the Wrong Man. As Jesus hangs on the cross between two criminals, one starts to ridicule and mock him. But the other stops the first and says, “We deserve this – this man does not.”  They crucified the wrong man. It’s the story of Third Day’s song Thief.

50 There was a good and righteous man named Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin, 51 who had not agreed with their plan and action. He was from Arimathea, a Judean town, and was looking forward to the kingdom of God. 52 He approached Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Taking it down, he wrapped it in fine linen and placed it in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever been placed. 54 It was preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed along and observed the tomb and how His body was placed. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.

1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3 They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. 5 So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. 6 “He is not here, but He has been resurrected! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, 7 saying, ‘The Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” 8 And they remembered His words. 9 Returning from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. 10 Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. 11 But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went home, amazed at what had happened. (Luke 23:50-24:12)

They Buried the Wrong Man. There’s an age-old joke that asks, “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” The answer is that no one is buried there. You don’t bury in a tomb – you entomb them. But it’s the same purpose. It’s the final resting grounds for the deceased. But they entombed the wrong man! You see, Jesus never was gonna stay dead. It was never part of the plan. Jesus even tried to tell his disciples: The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, but after He is killed, He will rise three days later.” But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him. ~ Mark 9:31-32. So when the women go to look for Jesus in the tomb the angel asks, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” They buried the wrong man.

So here is Jesus. Wrongfully imprisoned. Wrongfully crucified. Wrongfully buried. This is not supposed to happen to an innocent man. This is not supposed to happen to the Son of God. It’s just not right – at least not from our eyes. But it had to happen this way.

Because, in actuality, Jesus was the right man.

They Imprisoned the Right Man. Jesus was imprisoned so that you and I might have freedom. He became a captive so that we might escape. No one else could take our place. Jesus was the right man.

They Crucified the Right Man. He died as the ultimate sacrifice for sin. He was crucified in our place. When we look at what our sin deserves, it should have been us on the cross. Left to ourselves our paths will lead us to destruction. Jesus paid the price for our sin so that we could be reconciled to God – so that we might have a living relationship with the creator of the heavens and the earth. Buddha didn’t die on your behalf. Mohammed didn’t die on your behalf. No, they crucified the only man who could take the penalty for our sin. Jesus was the right man.

They Buried the Right Man. It was necessary for Jesus to die and then be raised again. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. But Jesus defeated death, and now we have no fear in death. Jesus’ resurrection points to the day when those who believe will be resurrected and live with Him forevermore. Death has been swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? Thanks be to God who give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! No, Jesus was the only one who could defeat death once and for all, paving the way for the new life we will one day live. Jesus was the right man.

There was no one else – there is no one else – there never will be anyone else – who could do what Jesus did for you and me. Peter declares in Acts 4:12: There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.

2 Corinthians 5 tells us:

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Maybe you’ve made the decision, but you haven’t really been living up to the person that God has intended you to be. Jesus paid the price – are you living up to your purchase price? Are you living in light of the cross? In your personal life? In your relationships? Jesus was the right man. He died so that we could live in freedom. Do not take the cross for granted. Don’t let His death mean nothing to you. My grandma always used to say, “Never put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today.”

Choose Jesus.

Related Posts:
~ Breaking G.I. Joes

Fruity Christians

Image courtesy of -Marcus- at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of -Marcus- at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you want to discover what a person wants, what a person loves, look at what they do. It’s a simply fact of life that people do what they love. That is to say, what people do is an outward expression of their passions, desires, wants, and loves. If you love your kids it shows in an outward expression of taking time to go to their softball games or school plays. If you love your significant other it shows in an outward expression of taking her out to dinner or massaging her tired feet. If you love television it shows in an outward expression of working your DVR overtime. If you love social interaction it shows in an outward expression of wanting to be at every party or event you hear about. If you love private time it shows in an outward expression of avoiding every party or event you hear about. You do what you love. Jesus talks about this principle. In Matthew 7 he says:

16 By their fruit you will know them. Grapes aren’t gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a rotten tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit. 19 Every tree not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire. 20 So by their fruit you will know them.

In this passage, Jesus is specifically referring to false prophets. The biblical prophet was not just someone who talked about upcoming events. Even though prophets sometimes told people about the future, the main role of biblical prophet is to be the voice of the Lord, to speak on God’s behalf. Jesus’ emphasis in this passage is saying that, even if people come speaking good words, words that sound like they are from God, words alone don’t mean much. In fact, he calls them wolves in sheep’s clothing. They may seem right, but the underneath doesn’t match up. Well-spoken prophets (and people in general) can still be counterfeits.

To know the true measure of a person, look at the fruit – look to their actions as the outward manifestation of their hearts. In other words, Jesus is saying, “You do what you love.” Ancient Rabbis often debated what was more important: hearing the law or doing the law. You can’t do without hearing. Hearing without doing is meaningless. Forget what people say – you can tell their hearts by what they do.

What you are on the inside – what you love – results in the fruit of your life – what you do. This is an interesting way of evaluating our lives. You can look at your own life and determine what your loves are by what you do. I’ve shared with people about my love of food and my struggle with my weight. In the middle of that struggle, when I was not practicing healthy habits, my wife said to me, “I thought you wanted to lose weight.” “I do, I really want to be slimmer,” I said. She replied, “If you really wanted it you would do it.” She was right – you do what you love, and I loved food more than the idea of being healthy.

You make sacrifices to do what you love. Given the choice of health/weight loss or eating whatever, whenever, I showed my real love by my actions. You can tell what you love by how you prioritize your life and the choices you make between one thing and another. You put aside other things to do what you love.

There are some great biblical examples of people who did what they loved. In Acts 6-7 we find the story of Stephen. When we talk about we do what we love, Stephen is a cut above the rest. He begins preaching to the Jews and religious leaders, telling them how all of Israel’s history points to the coming of Christ. The religious leaders get so upset that they start calling him names and they grind their teeth at him. But he continues to tell them anyway, so they take him out and stone him to death, and as the rocks are flying at him he prays a simple prayer, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, don’t hold this against them.” What did he love? He loved Jesus and telling others about Jesus. What was he willing to sacrifice to do what he loved? His own life.

It’s important that we know who we are – that we evaluate who we are. What do you love? What do you do? Look at that passage from Matthew again:

16 By their fruit you will know them. Grapes aren’t gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a rotten tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit. 19 Every tree not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire. 20 So by their fruit you will know them.

You can’t fake it. You do what you love. In this passage, what you do is called fruit. Since some fruit is good and some is bad, Jesus would seem to be saying that what we love and what we do aren’t always the right things. The question, then, is this: since we do what we love, are the things we love the same things God loves? Are our values God’s values? Are our values influencing our behavior appropriately? What are our values?

Our values determine our distinctives. What sets us apart from others? The values of a Christian set him apart from a Buddhist who has different values. Values also communicate what is important – they signal my bottom line. “This is what I stand for.” Values influence my overall behavior and determine our direction. God has values, and His values determine His behavior. For example, look at His behavior in John 3:16 – He gave his unique son as a sacrifice for sin. This behavior reflects His values. What does God value? God values lost people. Look at His behavior in Genesis 11 – Humans try to build a tower to heaven and God confuses their language and scatters them abroad.

What does God value? God values humility – knowing your place before the Almighty God. These are just a couple of the things God values. When our values begin to mirror God’s values, what we end up doing is what God wants done. We do what we love. When we do what God loves then we are fulfilling His will for us. This is true in our personal lives and the life of our church. So what do we, as a church, value? Remember, you do what you love. What is the evidence that we value these things? Is there anything that we want to value but don’t yet evidence? Is there anything we should value that isn’t seen in how we act?

When I first realized that you do what you love it changed the way I looked at my behavior. I realized that I couldn’t be a victim of circumstance any more. Picture six birds sitting in a row on an unshielded power line with the power turned off. The first three birds decide that they’re just gonna sit there the whole day and not fly around. The last three decide think that they’re gonna take off and go fly. When the power gets turned on, what’s the difference between the 1st three birds and the 2nd three birds? No difference at all – they’re all toast, because deciding to fly isn’t the same thing as actually flying.

 

Image courtesy of pisitphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of pisitphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Our actions need to be influenced by our values and our loves. Everything I was doing was the result of my own choice. I struggle with my weight, not because food is just too good, but because I love eating more than I love my health. I argue with my wife, not because she deserves it, but because I love defending myself and being right more than I love her feelings.

When I realized that you do what you love, I started to look at all of my behavior. I was motivated to let my actions reflect what I say I loved – to let my actions reflect what I should love – to let my actions reflect what God loves. I was motivated to change my own behavior, and if you know me you know that I don’t like new things. They’re scary. But God is saying, value what I value. Love what I love. Do what I do. When our lives begin to look like this, we start living in God’s will every day.

We may have to change some things in our lives. Are we willing to change/sacrifice to embrace God’s values and His loves? Can we sacrifice our comfort zones? Our time commitments? I don’t know what God will call us to change – maybe a lot, maybe not so much. But it’s time to love what He loves and do what He does. Are you ready to get on board?

 

How about you? What do you love? What will you sacrifice to do what you love?

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