Sunday, December 29, 2013

Waiting for the Sacrifice

"In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams" (Acts 2:17).

This morning I awoke with a vision.

In no ordinary way thoughts came to me about the temple.  The Bible says in Hebrews 9, "Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant.  This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant.  Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover.  But we cannot discuss these things in detail now."

Once a year the High Priest would enter the the Most Holy Place and offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people.  The sacrifice was required, but remained insufficient for permanently cleansing the people who offered the sacrifice.

I was not given a glimpse into the Most Holy Place this morning, neither was I given special insight into the reason God fashioned the temporary requirement of animal sacrifice.  What was given to me was a powerful sense of waiting outside for the High Priest to return form making the sacrifice.

For all the difficult things to understand in the Old Testament covenant and culture one thing was made simple, the people knew where to find God.  He was in the tabernacle.  It is not like God was waiting in the tabernacle like a genie in a lamp.  In 2 Chronicles 7:15-16 the Lord appears to Solomon and promises, "No my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this place so that my Name may be there forever.  My eyes and my heart will always be there."

Returning to the temple meant returning to God.  And once a year those who faithfully sough His presence would gather to see if their sacrifice was accepted.

Recently God has been filling my heart with the desire to return to him, like those people who would return to the temple.  I want to wait.  For some time now I have been exploring my options, living how I please, and hurting the Spirit that God has put in me.  Will God accept the sacrifice I bring?  I can quickly spout off  accurate theology that God permanently and perfectly accepts the sacrifice of Jesus.  The death the perfect Son of God died, he died for me.  But that truth is not offered for us to forgetfully go about our lives.  That is not faith.  Faith hungers and thirst.  "O god, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.  Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.  I will praise you as long as I live and in your name I will lift up my hands.  My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you" (Psalm 63:2-5).

Will you wait with me?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Day: Surgeon Savior

Christmas Day.

Sometimes I am not sure if I really want to be like Jesus.  Truthfully, I am not sure what my other options are, but I am certain of what I am rejecting when it comes to this decision.

Selflessness, that's what I'm rejecting.

When I don't want to be like Jesus it is because I am done with trying to be like him.  I can't do it.  Something always frustrates my attempts.  My attempts only peel back the layers of good intentions to show something unpleasant beneath.

Inside I need grace.  Grace that will come like a careful surgeon and skillfully fix what I do not have the ability to reach.  Internal issues that require a surgeon cannot be figured out by a butcher wielding a butter knife.  Both will make cuts, but only one will prove to be healing.

Every Christmas we celebrate the birth of the finest soul surgeon.  He came to make the cut.  And he used the sharpest tool: love.

Christmas is always a day of paradox.  On one hand we see the complete selflessness of God and on the other hand we often spend a good deal of time setting the stage to put ourselves front and center.  So often gift giving is more to prove a point than to simply lavish love.

We have this example:

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." (1 John 4:9-11)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Oscar Romero

“[The Church] is a community of faith whose primary obligation, whose raison d’etre, is to continue the life and work of Jesus.” (73)  No lesser objective would inspire such a pairing of powerful intellect and complete sacrifice as that of Archbishop Oscar Romero.  The centrality of evangelism and justice, especially with regards to the violence and poverty in his “beloved country”, was clearly motivated by no alternative ideology.  No ideology encompassed Jesus.  Marxism and Capitalism simply had fallen off different sides of the same horse.  The direction that the church must take cannot be left to the decision of councils or national politics.  “Only in the light of Christ, of his actions and his teaching, can the church find meaning of, and guidance for, its service in the world.” (71)  For Romero, the action and teaching was clear. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “Whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)  Every individual or ideology that stood in the way of justice must be confronted—confronted by what Romero would repeatedly call, “the full power of the Gospel.”  Romero understood that the advance of the church was not done by matching violence with violence.  The church advances through evangelism—“Evangelism is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, its deepest identity.” (130)  Violence will only lead to a different form of bondage; evangelism leads to true liberation.  Romero was very clear that his emphasis on the poor was not because they were extra special.  All people equally need Jesus.  Romero, following the pattern of Jesus, focused on the poor because they are the one without voices, overwhelmed by rampant injustice.  By doing so he became the “voice for the voiceless.”

Evangelism and justice cannot be merely fashionable hobbies of the modern church.  They are not niceties and things that we do to booster the identity of our organizations.  The Gospel is not a brand to be marketed; it is a power that is waiting to be unleashed.  It is very clear in the writings of Romero that he believed the Gospel was more powerful than steel and gun powder.  Guns will not triumph, but the person of faith will.  This is not a new conviction, but an old tradition.  The commitment to sacrificial evangelism and fearless pursuit of justice has won the greatest victories in all the annals of history.  Though it is currently trendy to speak of “relevant” evangelism and justice in modern culture it rarely takes a selfless, sacrificial form.  Romero aptly remarked, “Just as injustice takes concrete forms, so the promotion of justice must take concrete forms.” (75)  The form of injustice was apparent in El Salvador—abductions, assassinations, wide-spread poverty, inequality—and required an equally visible response.  This is culturally awkward, though.  It is not neutral and will force us away from the center of normalcy.  For example: we decry racism, but are too busy to make an effort to extend a hand of reconciliation.  But our words are so beautiful!  Nice sermons and chili cook-offs will not further the kingdom unless they take the form of true and visible justice and mercy.  The poor are not helped by people feeling bad, they are helped by people taking acting on their behalf.  “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)