Our ability to have our own personal Bibles is the result of extraordinary sacrifice by many people over the centuries. Cherish it.
From our first world viewpoint, sacrificing for our faith can seem rather superficial. Others around the globe have paid the ultimate price.
Many years ago, I memorized Micah 6:8 as a song. The version I learned went like this: “He has shown thee, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee: But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” I had that song in my head this morning, so I looked up the verse again to read it in context.
Micah is considered one of the “minor prophets” of the Old Testament, and the book is tucked between Jonah and Nahum. They may be called “minor,” but there are some major insights within those writings. For example, Micah foretold that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem (see Ch. 5). Micah also called out the people of Judah for being dishonest and worshipping idols. In fact, the heading for the passage quoted above is “The Lord’s Case Against Israel” in the NIV translation. God had a bone to pick with his people.
In the first five verses of Micah 6, the Lord reminds the reader of his many righteous acts. He dares the Israelites to backtalk him with complaints about life’s burdens, after all that God has done for them. Then, in verse 6, Micah poses the question of what gifts would be worthy to bring to the Lord as an apology for our sins. He mentions a variety of offerings before he hits the nail on the head in verse 8: God doesn’t want our sacrifices as much as he wants our hearts.
I like the way The Message paraphrases verse 8 (the same verse from the song that I mentioned up above): “But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.”
The greatest gift that we can offer to the Lord during this season (or anytime) is ourselves. Romans 12:1 calls this “a living sacrifice” – our everyday lives, devoted to bringing him honor.
I don’t splurge on very many things, but I have a bottle of perfume that cost about $40 on sale, which is expensive, in my book. I justify paying so much because I can make a single bottle stretch for a couple of years. The other morning while getting ready for work, I applied some hand lotion, and instead of waiting to let it soak in and dry, I immediately reached for that bottle of perfume, and it slipped right through my greasy fingers!
Thankfully, it landed in a basket in an open drawer and did not bust. I would have been disappointed to waste it, not to mention having to deal with cleaning up the mess. My whole house would probably smell girly, much to my sons’ chagrin! As I finished getting ready (more carefully!), I thought about a perfume story that I remembered from the Bible.
All four gospels give some account of a woman anointing Jesus with expensive perfume (see Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 7, & John 12). We’re not talking $40 type of expensive, either. The Bible says that this special perfume cost about a year’s income! Maybe some people nowadays would spend that kind of money on a fancy car or an original masterpiece of art, but I can’t imagine anything other than a house that most people would pay so much for.
Anointing usually involves pouring oil on one’s head, and Matthew and Mark bring attention to the extraordinary cost of the perfume as she anointed Jesus, but Luke and John share some additional details that I find remarkable. John mentions that the woman also anointed Jesus’ feet, then wiped off the perfume with her own hair. Luke adds that she was crying while she anointed his feet, and she wiped off her tears and the perfume with her hair.
You and I may not have the means to give extravagant financial offerings to the Lord, but each of us can give him things that are even more important: our love and our lives. The perfume anointing was an outward display of the woman’s heartfelt worship. In the same way, we can offer the Lord our sold-out hearts in worship every day.
Like a married couple drifting apart from each other as they start raising a family, sometimes we can get caught up with important things in ministry that detract us from other as-important (or even more-important) priorities. Raising kids is an important calling, no doubt. Cultivating a healthy marriage simultaneously can be difficult but doable, and maintaining strong individual relationships with the Lord is the foundation. Neglecting the foundation can damage the whole house, and there are no magic formulas or shortcuts.
We read in 2 Chronicles 29 that Hezekiah assumed the throne of Judah at only 25 years old. He didn’t wait around before he undertook a massive foundation repair project – literally and figuratively. Verse 3 tells us that he went to work in his very first month to overhaul the temple. It had fallen into disrepair and desperately needed a thorough cleaning. So, he called together the Levites (the clans of priests) and commissioned them to assist in the renovation work.
Hezekiah acknowledged that his predecessors’ priorities had gotten out of whack, and he was committed to making things right before the Lord. In his case, things really were bad: previous rulers had abandoned the temple and quit making sacrifices to the Lord completely. They had neglected their ministry, and God was not happy about it.
I would submit to you that the issues we face as a church family aren’t usually as blatantly obvious as tell-tale foundation cracks in the wall. Sometimes, it can be seemingly minor ways that we begin to neglect to care for each other, the church facility, our pastors, our staff, our volunteers, the community, and our visitors. We begin to expect that things will work smoothly because they always have, yet we don’t make the effort to figure out why or how or what we can do about it. Donuts & coffee magically appear in the fellowship area each Sunday morning. Restrooms are clean and magically stocked with toilet paper. The bulletin magically shows up printed and stuffed with announcements. Volunteers magically show up in the nursery. Canned goods for the food pantry magically appear stacked in the lobby. Of course, none of those things happen magically at all. They require a lot of behind-the-scenes work from several people, week in and week out.
I like how the Living Bible translation sets up verse 12 in saying that “the Levites went into action” when Hezekiah called them to help. The Message paraphrase says that they “stood at attention.” The point is that they were ready and willing to put all hands on deck to reprioritize and get the job done. May we go and do likewise.
I’ve never really minded the rain. I don’t particularly care if my hair gets wet, and I like watching the rain fall. Growing up in the Houston area, I learned to interpret weather forecasts differently from most people. You see, if the news said that there was a 30% chance of rain, that meant it would rain 30% of the day – it was a given that there would be rain, of some sort. The question was only how much rain.
One of my favorite Bible stories has to do with rain … rather, the lack thereof. I encourage you to take some time this week and read 1 Kings 18. Elijah is one of the most remarkable people in the Bible; I would love to have a teaspoon of his faith! The passage begins in the middle of a terrible drought: three solid years without a drop of rain. Elijah was the only living prophet of the Lord, and King Ahab had succumbed to the influence of false gods.
Elijah did something ridiculous in his challenge to the prophets of Baal. Not only did he stand up against 450 of them, but he even drenched his sacrifice in water before asking God to light it on fire. What astounding, sold-out faith! You’ll have to read the chapter to catch the details, but suffice it to say that once Elijah was finished, there was no doubt whatsoever that the Lord was the one true God.
The sacrifice was one fantastic part of the story, but what happened next was equally amazing. Elijah climbed a mountain and prayed earnestly to God for rain. He sent a scout seven times to check the sky for clouds, and finally, a small cloud began to take shape in the sky. That measly little cloud quickly grew and became a torrential downpour on the thirsty land – God’s answer to Elijah’s prayer.
Are there things that you have been praying about for what feels like ages, and it seems like God hasn’t answered yet? Keep the faith, dear ones! Like Elijah, keep your eyes on the Lord and seek him earnestly with all of your heart.
I pray that we are never forced to choose between our lives or our faith, but sober our hearts today, Lord, and remind us of your sacrifice.