Sunday, March 27, 2011

Personal Cost

And Gad came that day to David and said to him, "Go up, raise an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite." So David went up at Gad's word, as the LORD commanded. And when Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming on toward him. And Araunah went out and paid homage to the king with his face to the ground. And Araunah said, "Why has my lord the king come to his servant?" David said, "To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be averted from the people." Then Araunah said to David, "Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king." And Araunah said to the king, "May the LORD your God accept you." But the king said to Araunah, "No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel. (2 Samuel 24:18-25, ESV)


If I pass along a gift to you that I happened to receive from somebody else, nobody is really harmed in the transaction. If you happened to want what you received and I didn't have much use for it, you might even say that you came away satisfied. But if I say I've thought long and hard about you when I selected some special gift - that I sacrificed because I knew you would deeply appreciate it - and you later find out that I simply re-gifted an item I didn't want, I would imagine you might think a bit less of me or, at the very least, my integrity.

Contrast David's sacrifice here with the one Saul said he intended to make as recorded in 1 Samuel 15 and I think you will begin to see the similar picture to the second example above. Saul remained arrogant and conniving right to the end (need I bring up the whole witch at Endor thing). David, when presented with a legitimate offer from a loyal subject flat out refused to take the cheap way out. He was the one who had led the transgression (counting the fighting men) and he realized he needed to lead the act of repentance. He would not offer up some second-hand sacrifice to the Holy God.

In my current Lenten reflections along the Crooked Path, I realize that desiring to deepen the relationship with my God is a good thing. And, in doing so, I need to give back to Him things that I hold of value. The giving is not so I can gain (at least not as we usually count gaining), but rather because of what He gave up for me. In the face of His sacrifice of Jesus, how could I possibly offer God something in which I have no stake? A true sacrifice of the heart comes at a cost - a personal cost. Nothing else can substitute for that.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

It Isn't About Me

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.  (Mark 10:17-22, ESV)


If I am learning anything during this Lenten sojourn of mine, it can be summed up in this statement - it is not now nor has it ever been about me, my stuff, or what I can do. And, in a somewhat paradoxical statement, God's focus is entirely and specifically on me. Thinking of it that way is a bit unsettling because, like most of us, I really don't think about God loving and pursuing me in that intense way, as if I were the only one out there. Circling back to realize He does this out of His love rather than something I do just makes my head spin. But that is the way it is happening and always has happened.

The man running up to Jesus in the passage above might have been counted among the religious. Based on his own statements, he was schooled in the Law from his youth and had worked hard to keep all the commandments (or at least the ones Jesus' quoted to him). Yet he realized this Rabbi was offering something else that he didn't quite feel like he could grasp. And, learning the price of a true relationship, he walked away shaking his head. He would stick to his religiosity instead of committing to the relationship offered.

Watchman Nee, in his book Breaking of the Spirit, talks about the story of the nard inside an alabaster box. As only Nee can do, he speaks of that box being our humanity - our outer shell - that needs to be broken so that God's Spirit can flow through us. The trouble is that so many of us, in our myopic vision of what we bring to the exchange, value the intact box more than what is inside. We become, as Nee says, "antique collectors" and treasure the box too highly. Sadly, it is only when we let go of our things and our identity that we truly understand the depth of the relationship God invites us to have with Him. Treasuring our alabaster box, we miss out greatly.

As my travel on the Crooked Path continues through Lent, I am reminded of how little depends on me and what I bring, do, or say. It strengthens my resolve while humbling my spirit again in seeing that I must decrease so that He will increase through me and within me. It isn't about me - it never was. And yet He pursues me to the ends of the earth if necessary. How can I possibly keep anything back when He gives so much?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Matter of the Heart

And Samuel said, "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king."  (1 Samuel 15:22-23, ESV)


Creating and leading a class on Lent is a challenging task. Doing so when many of those participating don't have much background in the practice increases the challenge. Making real connections to what God has been impressing on my heart to the subject - now that's the fun of it all. If you strip away all the non-essentials, you are left with a personal choice that is intended to reach your heart. Lent, when observed from a position of humble gratitude, can be exactly that. It isn't about the practice in and of itself, it is about moving my heart closer to God's heart.

Saul had been given an order to completely eliminate the Amalekites. In the end, for whatever reason, his version of "obedience" didn't match what God was after. He hemmed and hawed when Samuel questioned him, throwing his own soldiers under the bus all the while claiming he had done what was asked. In addition, he was ready to offer up the spoils as sacrifice. Samuel tells him very clearly that God doesn't want the sacrifice (or the ritual, or the checklist, or the piety), God wants Saul's heart. More specifically, God wants my heart. That message to Saul is the same today as it was then. God wants your heart. The rest is fine, but if it doesn't come out of a heart pitched toward God, it's a hollow ritual at best.

The Crooked Path takes us many places. What a joy to know that I don't travel alone, that my Lord has both gone before me and walks beside me ... even carries me when I need it most. In reverent reflection of what He has done, this particular Season of Lent can be most special for me. God wants my heart and is ready to connect with me!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Seeking a Deeper Friendship

You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:14-16, ESV)


As I taught the Season of Lent class today for the first time, we discussed some of the history of Lent, some of the symbolism (especially of the 40 days), and how it seems to have been buried under a mountain of legalism and ritual. As a result, far too many will enter into the season and abstain from something because they feel they have to do it. It's an annual checklist item and they will do their best to fulfill their commitment between now and Easter - even if it kills them. But they will have missed the point entirely. Lent isn't, at the heart, a season of "giving up", but rather it is a season to prepare and renew the heart for what lies ahead. And what lies ahead, what we commemorate every Spring, is the call of Jesus to enter into relationship with Him in a richer, deeper way.

While it wasn't some mandate to observe Lent or any other practice, the words of the Master to His disciples in the Upper Room on that final night were words to live by. And among the great teachings was the "turning of the tables" where the Messiah called them his friends and explained that all He had and all He had done was theirs as well. They had been called God's children before, but this was something new - a new angle, if you will. It was an invitation to live as He lived, serve as He served, and ultimately to die as He died. In becoming friends instead of pupils, God Himself was telling them the entire game was about to change drastically. And at the heart of the change was a new relationship, a deeper, richer friendship with God than they could possibly imagine.

In preparing for my Lenten side trip, I would do well to remember it isn't about the practice, but about the Person. He does not now, nor has he ever wanted my ritualistic sacrifice. He wants my heart. He wants your heart. Celebrating Lent is just one way of seeking that deeper friendship with Him. And, I believe, it will be well worth the journey.