Sacrifice of Self

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: Sacrifice of Self
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.”

Prayer: The Request for Presence
May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us. Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations. — Psalm 67.1-2

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 6 (Listen – 2:24)
Hebrews 13 (Listen – 3:31)

Joy Through Surrender

Scripture: 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 Through 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

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Arise, O God, maintain your cause. — Psalm 74.21

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 5 (Listen – 4:48)
Hebrews 12 (Listen – 4:36)

Love Guided Thoughts :: Throwback Thursday

Scripture: Song of Songs 8.7
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.

Reflection: Love Guided Thoughts :: Throwback Thursday
By Richard Baxter (1615 – 1691)

Get but the love of God well kindled in your heart, and it will find employment, even the most high and sweet employment, for your thoughts.

What abundance of matter can a lover find for his thoughts to work on night and day! And will not the love of God then much more fill and feast your thoughts?

How easily can the love of money find matter for the thoughts of the worldling from one year to another?

It is easy to think of any thing which you love.

Oh what a happy spring of meditation, is a rooted, predominant love of God! Love him strongly, and you cannot forget him.

You will then see him in every thing that meets you; and hear him in every one that speaketh to you: if you miss him, or have offended him, you will think on him with grief; if you taste of his love, you will think of him with delight; if you have but hope, you will think of him with desire, and your minds will be taken up in seeking him, and in understanding and using the means by which you may come to enjoy him.

Love is ingenious, and full, and quick, and active, and resolute; it is valiant, and patient, and exceeding industrious, and delighteth to encounter difficulties, and to appear in labours, and to show itself in advantageous sufferings; and therefore it maketh the mind in which it reigneth exceeding busy, and findeth the thoughts a world of work.

If God has no room in the thoughts of the ungodly (Psalm 10.4) it is because he is not in his heart. He may be “on their lips,” but he is “far from their hearts.” (Jeremiah 12.2)

Do those men believe themselves, or would they be believed by any one that is wise, who say they love God above all, and yet neither think of him, nor love to think of him; but are unwearied in thinking of their wealth, and honours, and the pleasures of their flesh?

*Abridged and language updated from Christian Ethics: The Work of Love.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. — Psalm 62.6

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 8 (Listen – 2:23)
Hebrews 8 (Listen – 2:22)

Last Priest Standing

Scripture: Hebrews 7.27
Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.

Reflection: Last Priest Standing
By Jon Polk

Melchiz-a-who?

Quoting Psalm 110:4, the book of Hebrews favorably compares Jesus several times to the mysterious Melchizedek. The only other biblical reference to this king-priest is a brief interaction with Abraham in Genesis. The name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness” and he was the king of Salem, which is “king of peace.” Certainly Jesus fits both of these titles.

However, foremost in the comparison is the acknowledgement that Jesus has become our priest forever, as Melchizedek’s life was said to have no beginning and no end.

Under the old Levitical priestly system, a plurality of priests came and went; they were temporal, finite human ministers. Jesus (like Melchizedek) was not a Levite. He was from the tribe of Judah. While all other priests pass away, Jesus alone remains as our permanent priest to continually minister redemption and intercession.

Jesus’ personal sacrifice was so perfect and complete that it put an end to sacrifice itself. It put an end to the rote and routine rituals practiced by the Levitical priests. He did not need to make sacrifices for his own sins – he had none – nor does he need to make sacrifices repeatedly for our sins. The sacrifice of his own life was the last and only sacrifice necessary for our salvation.

Jesus’ high priestly ministry on our behalf is perpetual, never-ending. If we could grasp the full ramifications of this reality, it would radically impact our daily lives.

We can rest in the security of knowing that our eternal priest ,Jesus the Christ, is forever working for the salvation of those who seek him and he is alive to intercede before God on our behalf.

Considering this continual priestly work of Jesus Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a Scottish minister in the early 1800s, wrote:

I ought to study Christ as an Intercessor. He prayed most for Peter who was to be most tempted. I am on his breastplate. If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million of enemies. Yet the distance makes no difference; he is praying for me!

We would be wise to consider what practices of our faith have become routine and need to be revitalized by the living presence of Christ.

May we remind ourselves regularly of the powerful intercessor and high priest we have working for our good.

Prayer: A Reading
Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in your; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70.4

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 7 (Listen – 1:55)
Hebrews 7 (Listen – 4:01)

The Long Journey to Maturity

Scripture: 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: The 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.”

Prayer: A Reading
Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in your; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70.4

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 6 (Listen – 1:48)
Hebrews 6 (Listen – 2:58)

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