Come, Gather

Psalm 50: 5

Gather My godly ones to Me, those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.”

By now, most Christians have embraced the idea that God called us to Him so that we might be in relationship with Him. That relationship is one of kinship, it is a bond that is sacred to God. He seeks those who have covenanted with Him through sacrifice, forged a bond through sacrifice and He gathers those to Himself.

When we read the word “sacrifice” in the Old Testament, we usually think of lambs and bulls and goats offered on the altar. In verse fourteen we find that the sacrifice God was looking for was not the blood of animals but rather a sacrifice of Thanksgiving. In the Old Testament, there were prescribed offerings, but it isn’t the meat or the unleavened cake that God spoke about in this verse. He was looking at the thankfulness with which a person brought the sacrifice to the altar. The sacrifice is an offering of being grateful and expressing that thankfulness. In the Old Testament, that offering was not words alone but an actual offering that was taken to the temple and laid upon the altar. I personally like the outward expression. In other words, “Father I will tell you how thankful I am for what you have done for me but let me show you as well.” A sacrifice without an accompanying sentiment is empty. It is dead works. However, words can be empty too. I like an act being tied to our words and our sentiment of thankfulness. In modern times our offerings tend to be money. There are other ways to make a thanksgiving offering. If we gave something else of value, that would be a memorial before God too. The key is that it is an offering that means something to us.

There is a New Testament idea that we can drape over this covenant by sacrifice concept. It might be that when you hear the word “covenant” you think of the term “blood covenant.” A blood covenant is forged in blood and shows the serious intent of the parties as well as its immutable nature. It is a blood covenant that New Testament believers share with the Father, a bond so strong that it cannot be broken. The lamb was slain upon the altar and the blood from that unblemished, innocent lamb binds the Father to us in tethers which no one, not even God Himself, can sever. That sacrificial lamb, his flesh, his blood binds God to those who receive it as their thanksgiving offering.

If you think about it, the debate about who killed Jesus is resolved here. I sacrificed him; you did too. We are the ones who shed the blood of the innocent lamb and through him made a blood covenant with the Father. We are the ones who come to the altar and reap the reward of the thanksgiving offering. We are the ones who claim that blood. We put him on the altar as our thanksgiving that the Father loves us and was willing to slay the lamb in a joint act in order to forge that imperishable covenant bond between us. The blood of the lamb isn’t only a sin offering and a guilt offering. That perfect lamb is the thanksgiving offering of a grateful people. God gave us the perfect lamb so that we could come into spotless, unblemished union with Him, so that we would enter and enduring covenant with the Holy One.

Now, daily, the Father gathers His beloved to Him. He calls to those who, through sacrifice, have made a covenant with Him. So, there are two ideas I would leave you with. Gather to the Father. Hear His call to you for fellowship and togetherness. Second, don’t forsake the act of giving a thanksgiving offering. I think you will find it fulfilling. You can always give one just to memorialize the perfect sacrifice made for us, but you may also like to send Father a special thanksgiving offering just to express your thanks when something has gone well for you. I think it will touch the Father’s heart but just as importantly, it will boost your heart so that you will answer the bell which is ringing, calling us all to gather around Him.

Bless the Lord

Matthew 8: 2 – 4

A leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Tell me, what jumps out to you from this passage? There are many messages easily gleaned from these verses. As I read it recently, I was captivated by the last sentence. The facts are seen in the first two verses: evidence of faith, a request for healing, healing, and compassion. Jesus’ verbal response to the former leper is intriguing, though. The first message is this distinguishing between telling and doing. Jesus says, go do something. That actually is important because a leper would have been considered unclean and prohibited from going into the temple. However, the even more interesting part of Jesus’ statement is the directive to present the prescribed offering.

I am reminded of the story of Abram (Abraham) and Melchizedek from Genesis 14. Abram had just returned from battle when Melchizedek went out to meet him. Melchizedek brought wine, bread and a blessing. This is the blessing Melchizedek spoke over Abram, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand,” (Genesis 14: 19 – 20). The narrative reveals that subsequently, Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all. That’s the tithe and this occurrence happened many years before the law. Therefore, Abram did not give a tithe out of any obligation imposed by the law. This all happened before Moses lived so you have to think it happens before Jewish custom as well because the tribes of Israel did not yet exist. Why then did Abram give a tenth of all and does this inform our lives in any way?

People really get hung up on the tithe and I just thank the Lord that my teachers led me to tithe early in my Christian life. Folks get all twisted here about Old Testament, New Testament, the law, grace, etc. There is no need for this theological maelstrom. You can figure this out for yourself. Clearly there is something going on here. The similarity between the telling of Abram’s story and the recounting of the leper’s experience with Jesus is revealing. First God blessed. Then man blessed God. Abram didn’t tithe in order to get God to do anything. God had already done everything. He gave the enemy into Abram’s hand and then sent His high priest with bread, wine and a blessing. Abram’s offering was a response, not initiative.

The same is true in the case of the leper but in this instance, Jesus had to teach the man as to a proper response. He said, go show yourself and present the prescribed offering. Other translations use the word gift instead of offering which I believe casts a different light on the matter. It makes me think of a gift of thanksgiving. God has done something wonderful. Does it not seem reasonable to express our faith, gratitude and thanksgiving in a tangible way?

Here is what I trip over – Why in the world do we resist giving to God? Was Abram concerned with how Melchizedek would use the tithe? He was not even asked to give, he just did, willingly and with a good heart. What makes Abram different from us? How is it that he could so easily give Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils without grumbling or worry? What is hard about it for us? Did Abram look at Melchizedek and judge the man or did he make his offering to God?

Jesus directed the leper to go give to God as an appropriate response to the gift of healing. Have we come so far in our societies that this is a foreign concept? Have we become cultures of takers rather than givers such that the thought of doing something nice for those who bless us is unique? Tips have become mandatory in many establishments rather than a deliberate blessing for someone who has treated us well? And, if so, is that something that has tainted our giving impetus. Or is it more basic than any of these sociological questions? Are we just self-gratifying pleasure seekers for whom the next toy is more important than thanksgiving for all the blessings our Father daily bestows upon us?

This passage makes me want to bless my Father. He will never be impressed with the pittance I lay upon the altar, but I pray that the condition of my heart and the appreciation and love with which I give, will bless Him. How much joy do you think you may find in a love offering from you to the lover of your heart? “Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name,” (Psalm 103: 1).

The Gift

Matthew 5: 23

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar . . ..

This week I wish to bring you Christmas themed messages. I have been especially touched through Christmas songs and movies this year. One of my traditions is to gorge on Christmas music and I love, also, to watch the old Christmas cartoons of my youth. I find such beauty and inspiration in their simple but profound messages. Today, I want to tell you the story of the song, “The Gift.”

The story goes that a young orphan girl was on her way to the market when she stopped by the roadside to rest. There, where she paused, she found a small bird which had a broken wing. Maria, picked up the little bird and carried it with her to the market where she spent her last peso buying a cage for a home and corn to feed it. Over time, the little bird grew stronger and under Maria’s kind ministrations, healed.

This was the time of Christmas and everyone in the town made their way to the manger, offerings gifts of love and adoration to the baby king. Maria, poor and without resources was embarrassed that she had no gift worthy of the king. She waited until just before midnight to go in when no one would see her. As she knelt at the manger she cried for “her gift was unworthy of him,” but then a voice out of the darkness spoke to her. “Maria, what you brings you to me? If the bird in the cage is your offering, open the door let me see.” Maria opened the cage door and the little bird took flight on its healed wing. Just then the midnight bells tolled, and the little bird began to sing. The song was beautiful beyond words, a song fit for a king. This is the story of the very first Nightingale’s Song.

I was struck, as perhaps you were, of Maria’s desire to present an offering worthy of the king. Perhaps you too are grieved, as am I, that you have no offering worthy of our beloved Jesus. All we have to offer him is ourselves. In my heart I know my offering is a gift less worthy than a little bird. My offering is so insignificant that it is embarrassing to lay at the feet of the savior and king. And yet, it is all I have. As I recoil at the very thought of offering Jesus and the Father such a useless, unworthy gift, I am lifted by love Himself who says, “Thank you. This is the gift I have always wanted. The only one I wished for.”

His graciousness and acceptance is beyond humbling. He creates whole universes but the one thing He cannot get for Himself is my heart . . . and yours. If you want to give Father the one thing on His Christmas list this year, I know what it is. He wants us to strip away all of the trappings of who we are, what we do, our successes and our failures and just give Him our unadulterated hearts. He wants the heart of the child within you.

I pray that you will be overcome with the joy of the season and immersed in the love of the Father. I hope this week’s devotions will help you share your love with Jesus, the Father and with all people you come in contact with. May you be blessed beyond measure.

Cheery

2 Corinthians 9: 6 – 8

Each one must do (give) just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 

God loves a cheerful giver. God is less concerned about one giving from the abundance of one’s purse than giving out of the abundance of one’s heart. He is less concerned with how much you give and more concerned with how you give. He wants you to give to Him and to His work because you love Him and because you want to give. He does not want you to feel compelled because there is some good work to give to. He certainly does not want your guilt offerings. In other words, He doesn’t want your gift to Him to be motivated by your guilty feelings. Give less if need be so that you can get happy. Make it a joyous occasion between you and the Lord. Take your eyes off of the person, church or ministry that you are sowing into and put your eyes and heart on the Lord. Let your gift be a blessing unto Him. Then you will really be happy.

Rejoice

1 Chronicles 29: 9

Then the people rejoiced because they had offered so willingly, for they made their offering to the Lord with a whole heart, and King David also rejoiced greatly.

What a beautiful passage of scripture. These people experienced much joy because their hearts were in their giving to the Lord. Did you know that giving offerings to the Lord could fill you with joy? Really, most of us enjoy giving. We just do not like to feel obligated or coerced to give. When we give freely to the Lord with our whole heart, it does make the heart glad. It is a personal giving between the person and the Lord and that sort of giving lifts the heart and countenance. I think some of us are grumpy because we hold on so tightly to our money or gifts. When we let them go freely, we elevate our own spirits. And I know that the Lord is overjoyed when we give to him out of the abundance of our hearts. It doesn’t have to be a big gift, just a joyful one.

Human Sacrifice

Romans 12: 1

I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

This passage is so familiar that we often fail to look at the words. This isn’t just a call to present your body to God. There is more to it than that. This is a form of worship. It is part of our service to God. Note how urgently Paul entreats his followers. He seems to think this is very important. He tells us to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice. If I sacrifice my body to God’s service then that must mean that I am giving up some level of control. My body is no longer my own. Isn’t that right? We are no longer our own. We have been purchased with a price, the blood of Jesus (Revelation 5: 9). Further, this offering is meant to be a sacrifice which is acceptable to God. What does that mean? People have many answers to that question, you hopefully will find your own, but one way to think about it is that I will not take God’s body anywhere I should not. It also seems that it would mean that when I use this body, I use it in ways that are consistent with the Word of God. And I would mention that when we present our bodies to God it means that we give each part, all members of our bodies to God. That means even our tongues. What we say ought to edify the Father and His children.

I wish to give you one other perspective on giving your body to God. I recently made a long bike ride. In the last eight miles it started getting tough. Well, the Father and I have a running deal that the last three miles are His. He helps me through all the other miles but that last three are His alone. Well, with eight miles to go I started praying. I said, “Dad, it looks like you are going to have to take the last eight miles today.” That presented no problem to Him at all. I started releasing everything to Him and then I said, “Father, I give you my legs.” Wow! An epiphany went off in my head. I received a revelation of God’s healing and energizing power flowing into my legs and of Him using my legs to power that bike. I tell you I am getting thrilled again just writing to you about it.

When we present our bodies we need to present each and every part. Don’t just present your body as a whole. Give Him your eyes and then look out through those eyes with Him. Look at your hands and give them to Him. How does your back feel? Give Him your back. Give all to Him and what you will find is that He just multiplies your sacrifices and offerings back to you a hundredfold. I don’t know when we will ever let this hundredfold return on our offerings really sink in but it is right there in our bodies as well as our pocketbooks. Every time Dad demands an offering or a gift it is because He wants to do something for you. If you will give Him your body you will receive it back in much better working order. He has healing in His hands so whatever you put into His hands comes out with healing in it. Hey, that wouldn’t be bad for our pocketbooks either, would it?

Well, the moral of the story is that I had a great ride. I completed my first 50 mile bike ride ever and my average speed was as high as for a 25 mile ride. And that is not all. The next day I was not sore at all. In fact, I walked on the treadmill the next day. It wasn’t in my strength but, hallelujah, when I am weak, then I am strong. Think I will give the sacrifice of my body on the next ride.