Pleasing Sacrifices

Scripture: Hebrews 13:15-16
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.

Reflection: Pleasing Sacrifices
By Jon Polk

After weaving a rich theological tapestry, the letter to the Hebrews concludes in the same manner as many other New Testament epistles, with the author including a closing postscript of seemingly disconnected behavioral exhortations.

Love each other. Show hospitality. Remember the suffering. Honor marriage. Be content. Imitate your leaders.

The list is followed by one of the many commonly quoted verses from Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

There is a thread of continuity in these instructions that connects with Christ’s eternally consistent character.

One final time, the author recalls the high priest imagery that has permeated the book. A reference to the Old Testament sin offerings serves as a reminder that Jesus himself functions both as our high priest and a sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross is not merely an event that happened to Jesus, it is one of his important character traits. Jesus’ selflessness, demonstrated by his willingness to give up his very life for us, is the same yesterday and today and forever.

So what do all these final charges have in common? Selflessness.

Loving one another in the community of faith involves treating one another as we would members of our own families. There is a reason we refer to each other as sisters and brothers.
Not only should we love those in our community, but we are challenged to love those outside our community as well. Loving the stranger, the “other,” often involves personal risk.

One step even further is serving the outcasts, not simply strangers but those shunned from the community, in prison, mistreated, suffering. Ministry to the outcast involves a sacrifice of our time and resources.

Any married person could tell you that a truly successful marriage is founded on a commitment to serve one another selflessly.

Being content with what we have and guarding our hearts from the love of money may require reevaluation of career goals or personal ambitions. Trusting in God to meet our needs means releasing our selfish desire to control our destiny.

Remembering that God has provided faithful leaders to guide and instruct us is yet another way we practice selfless humility.

Ultimately we have been called to imitate our self-sacrificing savior, Jesus, by giving of ourselves to do good for the benefit of others. George Herbert, 17th-century British priest, poet, and theologian, wrote, “For there is no greater sign of holiness than the procuring and rejoicing in another’s good.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis TickleToday’s Readings
Isaiah 6 (Listen – 2:24) 
Hebrews 13 (Listen 3:31)

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 7 (Listen – 3:51) James 1 (Listen 3:26)
Isaiah 8:1-9:7 (Listen – 3:26) James 2 (Listen 3:32)

Read More about Finishing Well
We must keep our eyes on the example of Jesus, who ran the race before us and endured great suffering on our behalf.

Read More about Compelled Toward Community
We have been made participants in a New Covenant of grace with God and we are beneficiaries of Christ’s inheritance of forgiveness.

Joy of Courageous Surrender

Scripture Focus: Hebrews 12:2
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Reflection: Joy of Courageous Surrender
By Matt Tullos

Joy—The vocation of unquenchable, serene satisfaction in God.

Jesus teaches us courageous surrender. We see Him running headlong into His own demise for the sake of a greater eternal intention and destiny.

Jesus embraced the pain for joy.
He climbed the tall mount of suffering for bliss.
He met every hostile foe for love.
He challenged every lie for truth
The first warrior of grace…
He approached the unapproachable.
And it was for joy.

The first Artist of redemption endured the pinnacle of human suffering, alienation and shame. Amidst meaningless chaos, He hewed purpose out of the hard soil of humanity. Jesus’ hands were true to the task as He demonstrated the law of mercy.

In the presence of enemies, rebels, in the pretext of religiosity, God’s Son stepped out of the far reaches of glory, set His eye on the bride and it was for the joy.

“It is grace at the beginning, and grace at the end. So that when you and I come to lie upon our deathbeds, the one thing that should comfort and help and strengthen us there is the thing that helped us in the beginning. Not what we have been, not what we have done, but the Grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.” — D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Strangely, surrender is the most fulfilling thing you can ever do. Satisfaction and bliss will never be achieved unless you succumb to the sweetness of a divine relinquishment.

When this surrender overrides your fear, your pride in the self-made life, and the anger you have because of old wounds, joy abounds. You enter into a surrender which leads to death. This is the bliss of a purposeful holy death of your own petty kingdom.

The Cross became the Cure.
It was for joy.
It was for love.
It was for us.
How could I hold tightly to my life and miss the joy of reckless worship?
I kneel at the cross and live in joy. I am free to live
the life today that I’ve always wanted to live.
Delivered
Accepted
Released
Chosen
Loved
Free!

The same joy that was set before Christ is now before us. We can look to Him and remember what this life is about. It is a race toward a life surrendered totally to Him and His glory.
Does your sacrifice bring joy or is it an obligatory nod toward a distant God?

What lights the joy flame of your heart?

*From a series Matt Tullos wrote called 39 Words. A few of these posts are available in audio form via Soundcloud. — John

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name. — Psalm 86.11

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis TickleToday’s Readings
Isaiah 5 (Listen – 4:48) 
Hebrews 12 (Listen 4:36)

Read more about The Step After Surrender :: Throwback Thursday
It is not this thing or that thing that must go now: it is blindly, helplessly, recklessly, our very selves.

Read more from Matt Tullos: On Surrender
We are His prize and He snatched us away from the enemy through the brutality of an unthinkable surrender.

A Long Journey to Maturity

Scripture Focus: Hebrews 6.11-12
We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Reflection: A Long Journey to Maturity
By Jon Polk

“Now I know my ABCs. Next time won’t you sing with me?”

Letters of the alphabet are the elementary building blocks of language. The learner must comprehend the sounds of letters before combining letters to make works, before combining words to make sentences, and so on.

Once the student has mastered a language, it would be foolish and useless to continue to rehearse the very basic ABCs.

Like language learning, there are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity, but how will we know when we have arrived? We must move past merely knowing the basic teachings about Christ’s life, death and resurrection and beyond simply acknowledging our need for faith and repentance.

To be sure, no one but our sinless high priest Jesus will ever be fully spiritually mature in this lifetime, but there are some indicators to help us know we are headed in the right direction.

As rain-soaked land is expected to produce a bountiful crop, the mature Christian should produce what Paul describes to the Galatians as the fruits of the spirit, i.e. God-honoring, selfless character traits. As land that produces thorns instead of crops is worthless, James declares that faith that does not produce actions is dead, useless.

Marks of spiritual maturity include character growing in likeness to God and actions that demonstrate our love for God and care for his people. In reality, we can never truly arrive; this is a never-ending process.

In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson describes discipleship—the process by which we mature spiritually—as a lifelong journey:

For recognizing and resisting the stream of the world’s ways there are two biblical designations for people of faith that seem useful: disciple and pilgrim. Disciple says we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ. Pilgrim tells us that we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ.

Indeed, the journey of spiritual maturity is a one-way trip. We are warned of the dangers of falling away after tasting the goodness of God. Our calling is to diligently work until the end of our lives, moving forward ever onwards towards maturity.

As the writer of the anonymous hymn succinctly stated, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle
Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 6 (Listen – 1:48) 
Hebrews 6 (Listen 2:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
Song of Songs 7 (Listen – 1:55), Hebrews 7 (Listen 4:01)
Song of Songs 8 (Listen – 2:23), Hebrews 8 (Listen 2:22)

Read more about A Sign of Immaturity
The immature demand signs because they walk by sight—not faith.

Read more about Work, Ministry, and Generosity
Generosity transforms our work into an instrument for cultivating faith—planting seeds for the spreading of the gospel of Christ.

Keep Drinking the Milk of the Word

Scripture Focus: Hebrews 5.11

11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Reflection: Keep Drinking the Milk of the Word

By John Tillman

In Hebrews chapter 5, the author wishes to discuss complicated topics of Christ’s transcendental priesthood, the Trinity, and the incarnation. But how is this possible when the readers are not ready for such theological complexity? The writer rebukes the readers, telling them that it is difficult to teach them when they don’t even try to understand.

Just like the chastised readers, the maturity of western Christianity is in question.

Our world needs a gospel-driven worldview, yet half of those raised in church can’t identify the Great Commision. What is it? Who said it? What does it mean? Where is it in the Bible? One out of two don’t know.

This is not just an indictment of our lack of biblical knowledge. More knowledge isn’t the answer. Jesus didn’t call Peter to build a biblical trivia team. Peter, and by extension every Christian, is called to feed a flock, starting with the young. Starting with milk. Milk changes a lamb to a ram.

However, even the simplest of disciplines, church attendance, has been in decline since 1959. (We can’t, therefore, blame millenials for it.) It’s not that we are still drinking milk when we should have been weaned, but that we’ve never drunk it consistently.

Perhaps our culture disdains milk and small beginnings too much? We desire something for nothing. We want spiritual marathon ribbons without putting in the hard miles of training.

Drinking the milk of the word should not be a marker of immaturity and shame but of growth. The purpose of milk is progress. One doesn’t leave milk behind, but adds to it, learning to consume and digest spiritual foods of greater complexity. 

Babies physically grow faster in their early years than at any time in their life. But the growth of the visible is nowhere close to as impressive as the cognitive growth that is happening in their brains. The growth we can experience by the simple application of spiritual practices to our lives can be similarly exponential.

Prioritizing the basics of faith—Bible reading, reflection, prayer, and corporate worship—is a spiritual intake process that matures with us, leading deeper into scripture as we repetitively read and absorb God’s Word.

If we expect to effect change in our complex and demanding world, we need to consistently drink our milk.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence

For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. — Psalm 62.6

Read more about Slavery to Maturity
Perhaps the best thing God can do for our spiritual maturity is to lead us through a desert of trials, mistakes, and dangers

Read more about The Purpose Beyond Growth :: Throwback Thursday
Reproduction, not mere development, is the goal of matured being—reproduction in other lives.


Transcendent Peace and Rest

Scripture Focus: Hebrews 4.1-3
1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said…

Reflection: Transcendent Peace and Rest
By  John Tillman

Quarantine experiences vary widely. Some of us are at leisure while some are pushed to work around the clock. Some suffer in boredom and some in financial panic. Some are in danger outside the home at essential jobs and some are in danger in the home from abusers they cannot leave home to avoid.

Despite the variety of our experiences, there is a resource available to believers that the rest of the world cannot tap. It is a type of rest in which the busiest can recharge and a type of refreshment and stimulation unavailable in the most captivating leisure activity. There is a place of peace that those in peril can hold on to. There is security unattainable even by those with stockpiles of resources. Christians can rest in God.

This is a spiritual rest that can exist in the midst of strenuous activity. It is transcendent rest, that is unassailable by physical suffering. It is rest that, although invisible, is as tangible as our next breath.

Hebrews speaks of this rest by referencing the Genesis account. Many commenters note that the end of the seventh day, the day of rest, is not noted as the others are. It has no “morning and evening,” no beginning and no end. God’s “rest” was not intended to end. But for sin, Adam and Eve may have lived in a continual “seventh day” period, experiencing “shalom” or peace with God. 

In Jewish culture, sabbath, or shabbat, and peace, or shalom, are linked. We find shalom within shabbat. We find peace within the sabbath. This weekly illustration was never intended to mean that we can only have peace on one day out of seven. Instead, we can experience God’s peace in every day and any moment. Hebrews tells us that “we who have believed enter that rest.” 

God has made a new day for us to live in. The author of Hebrews and David the psalmist call it “Today.” It is a day of opportunity. This day we choose who we serve, as Joshua said on the banks of the Jordan. God sets before us the Promised Land, the Sabbath rest. 

Israel, when they trusted their strength, failed. So will we. Israel, when they trusted in wealth, caused needless death. So will we. Israel, when they trusted only in God, saw impossibly great walls fall to the ground. So will we.

Trust and enter his rest. Carry his peace with you always.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully. — Psalm 145.19

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 4 (Listen – 2:46)
Hebrews 4 (Listen -2:43)

Read more about A Restoring Sabbath
This post by Dena Dyer from 2019 reminds us of the value of a Sabbath. How are you using the unintentional Sabbath of Quarantine? How are you allowing yourself and your “land” to rest

Read more about Better Things to Do
Amos 8.5-6, 11
When will..the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?
…buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals…


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