One of the more common wishful fantasies of the typical Christian
is this: “If I had a billion dollars, I would give so much to…” No
doubt you would; it is easy to give from an excess. It is hard to
give from scarcity; remember the Widow’s Mite? We see newspaper
articles about wealthy men giving huge sums to various causes; we
think, “How grand!” But God does not measure the giving so much as
Sacrifice? There seem to be at least three definitions of that
word for the typical Christian:
· There is the Old Testament sense—God, it seems, likes to keep
the barbeque on, and is very specific about the menu. What it all
means is rather obscure and not important.
· There is the modern sense—we say that someone sacrificed to
send her kids through college. It is something that you give up so
that you may obtain something else, when the something is very
expensive to you.
· But there is a New Testament sense too: it is something you
give, or give up, to please someone you love. Those who are young
and in love understand this sense well enough.
So then, what is Paul asking us to give or give up?
· He’s asking that you give your body. Your service to Christ
should not be abstractly intellectual but in the flesh.
· He’s asking that you give up the ways of this world and follow
the ways of Christ. Another way to say this is, be holy.
The last clause of this verse is rather difficult to translate.
He puts forward two ideas:
· First, that this is your worship—or is it service? The two
words are sometimes the same, as here. To serve him in the flesh is
to worship him.
· Next, that this is your reasonable (or spiritual, or
intelligent) service. The word in the Greek for this is the one from
which we get our word, “logical.”
So—look what he has done for you! Is it not reasonable in return
to present yourself, in the body and mind, to him for service? He
came to serve; we can surely imitate him in that.
Lord, most of us are not destined for greatness—so teach us,
then, what is our reasonable service.
Somewhere on this planet there is a factory that makes the
world’s smallest umbrellas. Made of bamboo and paper, they are no
more than four inches in diameter. For the uninitiated among the
readers, they are referred to as “cocktail umbrellas.” Tropical
drinks often call for a fair number of ingredients, to be blended
under the watchful eye of the customer. The last step is inserting
the cocktail umbrella; it signals that the drink is ready. It also
(by its color) helps identify whose drink is whose.
There is something of that sense of “finished!” in this verse.
The drink offering was the cocktail umbrella on a sacrifice to
heathen gods (remember that the Philippians were converted heathen,
not Jews.) It is a finishing touch. So what Paul is telling them
here is that his life is about to be taken; when it is, it will be
the finishing touch to their faith and service. A ceremony of
dedication, so to speak.
We can picture this sacrifice thusly:
· The Philippians represent Paul’s sacrifice of time, effort and
danger in bringing them to Christ. He gave them to Christ.
· But then they too have labored for Christ, and their service is
also a sacrifice.
To both of these Paul now adds his finishing touch: his own
martyrdom. This, he says, is cause for rejoicing and sharing his
· Paul rejoices because he, the great enemy of the early church,
has been accepted by the Lord he persecuted.
· Paul rejoices because it is now clear that his work, carrying
the Gospel to the Gentiles, holds firm.
· Paul rejoices as one who has finished an arduous task.
But he has cause to share this joy as well. The Philippians are
his brothers and coworkers in the faith; his joy is theirs. How so?
· Because they have shared the hardship and labor with him.
· Because, ultimately, they will share the resurrection with him.
The cloud of impending martyrdom looks indeed bright to one whose
faith is firm in Jesus Christ.
Lord, how little we know of the hardships, perils and sacrifices
made by your apostles. Teach us to sharpen our minds to be a living
sacrifice to you.
Frequent fliers have one slight consolation for hours on
airplanes: if you do it long enough, you can get upgraded to first
First Class! It has a certain mystique. This was well expressed
by an elderly lady in the First Class line at the airline counter.
The person ahead of her was whining about this and complaining about
this. The lady tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Young man,
first class is not a ticket. It is a style.”
There is a certain sense of first class in this little verse,
too. Some of us are very good at giving God the absolute least we
can get away with. Others have learned the style which is known as
sacrificial living. In the Old Testament we learned that the priest
was to burn the fat of the offering—which, like a barbeque today, is
what produces that wonderful aroma. So just what produces that first
class aroma in a gift to God?
Paul gives us three clues here:
· The first is in the word used for “received.” In the original,
it is a business term, meaning that had received in full, i.e. he
had received all that was due. So our first task is to see that we
don’t forget anything needful.
· The second is in the word “abundance.” The word can also be
translated “overflowing.” Not only are we to give the right things,
but we are to give them so that there is more than what seems to be
· The third is in the phrase, “amply supplied.” This carries with
it the idea that the items were crammed in everywhere, the package
was just stuffed with them. It carries with it the idea that the
giver is indeed more than generous.
When you come to a barbeque at my house, you will find that we
always cook more than we really need; it is the motto of my house:
“No man leaves my home hungry.” Side dishes so numerous that they
can’t all fit on one plate; condiments everywhere. It’s not just a
form of cooking; it’s a style of entertaining. Now, if I would do
that for my guests, how much more should I do for the sake of the
Sacrificial living is a style—a style that is generous in supply,
thorough in provision and needs no bubble wrap. The box is full with
the care and love provided.
Lord, we know so little of sacrifice in our lives! Teach us the
way which is pleasing to you.
Sacrifice of Praise
Have you ever noticed just how terrible newborn infants really
look? All purple and wrinkles, they resemble a pickled egg which was
shelled with a lawn trimmer. But whenever Grandma shows up with the
pictures, all the ladies gather round and say, “Isn’t he cute?” We
praise the infant not for his or her beauty, but for love.
Praise is a sacrifice made from love. It is a sacrifice because
in it we give up the natural order of praise:
· First, we praise ourselves. Me first—if I can get away with it.
· Then we praise our “team” - family, friends, local fan club,
bowling league—whatever group we value.
· Finally, in the outermost circle, are those who deserve praise
on sheer merit alone.
But there is also a supernatural order of praise:
· God comes first. He is the most deserving of our praise.
· Then those around God—his church.
· Then other people, then “me.”
You will kindly note that the passage tells us to praise God
continually, to keep on praising him. There are reasons that we
don’t make this a one time thing:
· First, because he is eternal—and deserves the same kind of
· As with one’s wife, you must tell her continually that you love
her. The truth of that does not change, but it strengthens the
relationship to repeat it.
· Finally, we praise him so that others might know him. We may
not be able to pound a pulpit—but we can tell what God has done for
How should we praise God?
· In song—even if you don’t have a singing voice.
· In testimony—you are the living expert on what God has done for
· In prayer—so the he knows you mean it.
In all of these give thanks.
Lord, how often we complain; how little we give thanks. Teach us
the joy of the sacrifice of praise.
There is a very famous photograph from World War II: raising the
flag on Iwo Jima. Those who study photography as art can tell us of
its use of composition; those who know nothing of this are still
powerfully affected at this picture of sacrifice triumphant.
Great photos are like that. They are not “just a picture”; but we
know they are also “not the real thing.” Somewhere in between lies
the art of photography. Such art touches the heart of the one who
sees it; touches—and leaves so much more yet to be done. The truly
great photographs seem to work in the same ways:
· They bring up memories, especially shared memories. It was no
accident the firefighters at the World Trade Center used this
photograph as a guide to their own.
· They tell a story—a story of hope, a story of fear, a story of
sorrow. Sometimes all of those.
· Ultimately, however, they cannot replace the real thing.
Have you ever wondered how people kept such memories before
photography? One way is still in use: ritual. Like photography,
ritual brings up shared memories—triumphs or disasters. Likewise,
such a ritual touches the heart, telling of hope or sorrow. To this
day the notes of Taps float over the watery grave of the USS
Arizona; calling forth the patriot’s tears.
The Old Testament sacrifices were like that. They looked back to
the days of Moses, when the glory of God was seen on the earth. They
told the tale of sorrow, the tale of atonement for sin. But they
also looked forward.
The Old Testament sacrifices were the photograph of the Messiah
to come. Paul uses the word “shadow”; it was the closest thing he
had. They showed us what the Messiah would be like; how he would
become the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Is there
only one Day of Atonement in the ritual year? There will be only one
Atonement, done by the Messiah. The lamb must be free from blemish?
Only the perfect, sinless life of the Messiah would do for this
At a distance of more than three thousand years the sacrificial
rituals of the Old Testament seem dim indeed. So why are they still
in the Bible? Have you ever treasured an old photograph?
Lord, your atonement was planned from the very beginning. Let us
treasure it above all other rituals or photographs.
At first reading this is a strange passage. Why would God take
the trouble to insist that the sacrifice be at least eight days old?
It seems to make no sense, until you examine the Scripture, seeking
for those things which may be done on the eighth day.
Ceremonial cleansing was required in a number of instance.
· If a man had leprosy and it went away, he would present himself
to the priest. Various sacrifices were made; but it was on the
eighth day that the man could be declared clean.
· A woman was considered unclean after childbirth—and her
sacrifices would produce cleanness on the eighth day.
· The Jewish observance of Yom Kippur ends on the eighth day, the
Day of Atonement.
The common form of consecration in the Old Testament was
circumcision. The male child would be circumcised on the eighth
day—even if it were a Sabbath.
On a larger scale, the Jews still celebrate the Feast of
Tabernacles, which commemorates the Exodus. This is a type of the
journey from sin (Egypt) to holiness (the Holy Land).
Construction? Often in the Old Testament we see something
dedicated on the eighth day after its completion. For example, God
gave Ezekiel instructions for consecrating the altar—which could
then be used, starting at the eighth day.
Cleansing, Consecration and Construction for today
· Our cleansing is in communion, where we are taught to examine
· Our consecration is in baptism
· Our construction is building the church by making disciples.
It pleases God when we are holy, and do his will.
Lord, we so often need your cleansing, we forget our consecration
and neglect your construction. Have mercy on us; open our eyes.
Covenant of Salt
It is hard for us to understand what salt means in the context of
Biblical times. Today, the phrase “low salt diet” is a common one;
the medical profession weighs in against the substance. Cautious
heart patients check labels for sodium content; cook books abound
with low sodium recipes. Salt is villainous.
But salt has not lost any of its original virtues. We see this in
our daily lives:
· Salt is still used as an antiseptic. Your mother (and my
doctor) recommend gargling with salt water as a treatment for a sore
throat. In the time of Moses, this would have been a prime use. For
example, newborn babies were rubbed down with salt.
· Salt is still used as a preservative. Did you know that you
cannot sell olives in the United States unless they have been
pickled in brine? Pickles, ham and I suppose Spam® are all preserved
with salt. In ancient times, this was even more common, as this was
the only effective preservative they had.
These uses explain the spiritual meaning of salt. Consider:
· Salt with grain offerings reminds us that bread usually has
salt in it too. It is a visual recognition of God’s promise to “give
us this day our daily bread.”
· The priesthood of Aaron was proclaimed to be a covenant of
salt—which cleansed the people by sacrifice and kept them before an
· The throne of David is also said to be a covenant of salt—hence
David’s rule was promised forever.
Which brings us, then, to the salt of the earth. By way of
reminder, that’s what Jesus called his followers. So we may ask:
· Are you a cleansing influence—assisting your fellow Christians
in ridding themselves of sin?
· Are you a preservative—one who carries the Good News of eternal
life to all you meet?
The covenant you have with Christ carries those properties:
cleansing and preserving. Do you?
Lord, we think so little of the ordinary duties of a Christian.
May my lips speak of your eternal covenant; may my life be visible
to all as one who will spend eternity with you.
In the entire world, is there any aroma more likely to drive you
crazy than the smell of bread baking? My route to college crossed
paths with a huge bakery; in the summer they would open the windows.
That aroma probably caused dozens of traffic jams.
How does this occur? Into the dough the bakery places some
yeast—or, as it is called in the Bible, leaven. The leaven digests a
portion of the flour, leaving behind a quantity of carbon dioxide
gas. The gas produces the characteristic hole structure.
Throughout the Bible leaven has been used as a symbol as well.
Christ frequently used it to warn against the hypocrisy of the
Pharisees, for example. It’s a good symbol; leaven spreads quickly
by letting out hot air.
The connection starts with the exodus. The Jews were in such
haste to leave Egypt that they had to pack up the bread dough,
unleavened, to take with them. It is a symbol of their haste in
leaving Egypt—symbolically, our haste in leaving sin.
But there are two exceptions to such a rule:
· If the offering you were bringing was a peace offering, you
were required to bring leavened bread.
· At the celebration of Pentecost, you were required to bring
leavened bread as an offering.
These two exceptions have their parallels in the New Testament.
In particular, we must remember who is our peace offering—Jesus
Christ himself. He is the one who brought peace between us and God
the Father, at the price of his very life. The kingdom of God is
like a little bit of leaven which leavens the whole batch. We are to
be that leaven.
Pentecost: the name brings up tongues of fire and speaking in
tongues. Its real significance is this: it marks the start of
evangelization by the church. Starting with a handful of men,
Christ’s kingdom has spread through the world, continuing to reach
new people for Christ.
Leaven in the bread; peace between us and God. Leaven in the
bread: go into all the world and make disciples. Is his leaven
rising in you?
Lord, you have commanded us to be the leaven in the bread of the
world—so that they might have the bread of life. May we bring your
peace to this world.
The word “scapegoat” comes into the English language by way of
the Bible. We now mean it that a scapegoat is one who took the blame
for another’s misdeeds. Usually the scapegoat is some underling of
the real culprit. The picture is familiar; a nobody is dismissed so
that a somebody can keep his position.
Here we have the origin of the concept. This was done on the Day
of Atonement. When translating from Old Testament ritual to New
Testament reality, we remember that “once a year” in ritual means
“exactly once” in reality. So we confirm the fact that Christ died
once, for all.
It may seem strange, then, that there were two goats in this
process. That’s why we are told of casting lots for the goats. By
casting lots the High Priest showed that these two goats were
interchangeable; symbolically, they are the “same thing.”
So we can see the functions of the atoning sacrifice:
· One was to die, to pay the price for sin. If sin be atoned for,
blood must be shed.
· The other was to carry the sins of the people to “an
uninhabited place” - the wilderness. The purpose is to show that the
sins are now removed from us.
Both goats were presented before God before the casting of lots.
The picture is a vivid one, and shows the emphasis God places on
sin. Sin separates us from God. It must be paid for; it must be
removed. Only Christ did that; only he could, only he can.
There is one essential difference between God’s handling of the
Scapegoat and ours. In our handling of the scapegoat, he is someone
who is high enough in the hierarchy of things to feasibly be blamed,
but as low as possible to mitigate damage to the people at the top.
In other words, our scapegoats are as low a level of personnel as we
God’s method is exactly opposite to this. The Scapegoat who came
once is none other than God’s own son, God in the flesh. He came for
the specific purpose of being the atonement sacrifice; he came with
the specific purpose of removing our sins from us. We sacrifice the
little man for the higher ups; God sacrifices his Son for the lowest
of the low.
Lord, your sacrifice is beyond our understanding—but within our
acceptance. We praise you for the great things you have done.
Sacrifice: something of value given up without realistic hope of
return. Only the character of God guarantees any return at all.
That’s how we view it, and I think correctly. A sacrifice has no
worldly hope of paying back; it relies entirely upon God’s
The world would have us look at this in another way. Of course
God wants your sacrifices! What you do for him is all to your
credit, and God will, eventually, reward you for it.
· It’s wonderful for you to make great sacrifices—just be sure
they are acknowledged in a suitable fashion. Make sure everyone else
knows what you’ve done for God. It’s an example for the others,
· When you go to him in prayer, approach with confidence.
Remember, he owes you, big time. You should be proud of your
accomplishments. Surely he will recognize them.
· Remember, God is the source of power in your life. If you want
to be successful, make sure he knows what you need. That way, you’ll
be a step or two ahead of the others.
God’s view is curiously different.
· Does he want great sacrifices from you? Only those of the
broken contrite heart. It is a plain on which the rich and the poor
may be leveled. The contrite heart acknowledges its sins, and
repents of them.
· Bring to him the broken heart—no longer steeped in pride. Be
still, know that he is God, and that you are a sinner. Do not take
up your pride to him; rather, admit your sins and beg his mercy.
· Remember, God is not only the source of power—he is the source
of mercy. He longs to hear from you, confessing and repenting. His
joy is in a sinner returning home
God brings down the proud; he lifts up the humble—in his own
time. He favors those who humble themselves in his sight. So learn,
please, to know the humble and contrite heart. All locks have a key;
the humble and contrite heart is the master key to God’s heart.
Lord, often we approach you with earthly confidence, when you ask
for heavenly boldness. Grant us the humble, contrite heart.
Middle Class Sacrifice
The use of a dovecote is now lost to most of us. If we feed the
birds, it is to attract the colorful and musical ones. Our ancestors
viewed such birds as food—and a treat at that. So they would build a
place for doves (or other birds) to nest—a place with a back door
through which the owner could put his hand. The purpose of this was
to tie a string around the leg of each hatchling. When full sized,
the squab made a tasty treat.
In ancient Israel, the two doves mentioned here are a middle
class sacrifice. The rich would bring a lamb from their flocks. It
was only the middle class that would keep a dovecote. The poor were
allowed to bring a tenth of an ephah of flour. (Don’t ask me what an
ephah might be. One of my references cleared things up this way:
“Twelve logs to one hin; six hins to one bath. One cab and
four-fifths to one omer. Three omers and one third, one seah. Three
seahs to one ephah. Ten ephahs to one homer.” Does that explain it?)
God, you see, is quite reasonable about this. He asks but a token
of the price of redemption. He just asks that it be in proportion to
your wallet. What else can we learn here?
· God is no respecter of persons. Your wallet doesn’t matter;
your willingness to repent does.
· All of us need this; all of us have sinned.
· Honest repentance includes your wallet—but see how he puts you
in charge of the giving!
· Though we cannot afford it, God provides a way for each of us
to obtain redemption. In those days, the sacrifices mentioned here.
In our time, the Cross.
But one must ask: didn’t they know that these two doves could not
really buy redemption? Perhaps they did. But when they were obedient
to the commandments God was careful to bless them. Indeed, even
today God rather prizes obedience.
It is just possible that, on one day, two doves purchased more
than those in the Temple knew. For this was also the redemption
price of a first born. It is the sacrifice that Joseph and Mary
brought to redeem her first born, Jesus.
Lord, we know that the only sacrifice for sin which is effective
is the one you made at Calvary. We are rich in so many unimportant
things, Lord. Teach us to prize the best.
Right Things, Right Way, Right Place
One of the recurring themes of the Old Testament—clearly affirmed
in the New Testament—is this: we are not given the liberty of
finding a better way to present our offerings to God. He sets the
number of doves; he is the one who tells the priest precisely how
the sacrifice—and, strangely, it seems, where the sacrifice is to be
made. Even at the construction of the Temple, God’s instructions are
that this is the place where He will place His Name. Why?
· First, for the unity of the people. These wanderers were many;
they needed to be formed into one people.
· Next, so that they might not sacrifice to other gods. Remember,
these people had seen multiple gods and temples in Egypt; the
concept of one God is new to them.
· Finally, so that their sacrifices would not be wasted. If this
is where God wants it, nothing else would do.
In a sense, we come presenting sacrifices to God also. Ours
typically come from a checkbook rather than a flock of sheep, but
they are sacrifices. At least they should be. Does God still have
reason to accept these sacrifices only within his church?
· The unity of the church is a frequent theme of Paul’s letters.
In our day, sadly, the unity we have comes solely from having one
Lord. But it is still God’s will that we be one.
· Could we sacrifice to other gods? Not literally, but by being
in his house on Sunday morning we are reminded of what should come
first in our lives.
· Finally, so that your sacrifices will be accepted—for they will
only be accepted through Christ.
Sacrifice: a word not used much in church these days. Americans
will give from the bounty God has given them, but sacrifice is a
rare thing. Take a lesson from the Old Testament. If you want to see
the fire of God ablaze in your church, then bring in his sacrifices.
Bring the right things—the contrite heart, for example. Bring them
to the right place—his church. Bring them at the right time. Which,
perhaps, is even today.
Lord, we are a nation you have greatly favored. Lord, bring us a
spirit of revival—so we may bring our sacrifices to you: the lips
that praise you, the help that comforts others, the contrite heart.
Can of Worms
“The only way to get a can of worms back into the can,” said my
boss, “is to use a bigger can.”
He’s right. Think for a moment about nuclear waste. Every scheme
for dealing with it is the same: put it in a can and hide it
someplace for a long, long time. If it leaks, get a bigger can.
Israel had a can of worms too—sin. Sin cannot be allowed to
continue to abound; there must be a cleansing. But the Israelites
had no such cleansing—nor would they until the coming of the Christ.
So until then, they needed a method for handling the problem—in
other words, a bigger can.
The word translated “atonement” is the Hebrew Kaphar, which means
a cover. It does not carry with it the idea of paying for sins; it
carries the idea of covering them up. From this we may learn two
· That they had sins to cover, and
· Those sins were hidden—but not gone.
It was not as simple as it sounds. God had given them the bigger
can (or at least the lid), but this was not just a casual thing.
Indeed, to partake in this covering required three things:
· First, humility. The deliberate act of humbling yourself before
God is now seldom recommended—except in song. It would seem the
songwriters listened to the heart of God, and encourage us to
“humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
· Next, the presentation of an offering. It is the sure sign that
a man is serious when he pulls out his credit card. The offering
does not cancel the sin—only Calvary could do that—but it does say
you are serious.
· Finally, do not work on that day. Why? So that you might focus
upon how sinful you really are, and how gracious He really is.
From the time of Moses until the coming of the Christ, all Israel
knew that there must be a day of cleansing. There was, the day of
the Crucifixion. All God’s children since then have known that
there must be a day of reckoning, when our Lord returns.
Lord, help us humble ourselves before you, in the gentleness of
your care, seeking pardon. We seek mercy, not reckoning.
1 Chronicles 16:40
It is the privilege of a select few to do great things for God;
one of a multitude is counted worthy to suffer great things for God.
These are not volunteers; they are selected by the Holy Spirit for
the tasks in question. Certainly there could be no less likely
candidate than Paul, for example.
Most of us are not called to great things; we are called to
ordinary things. Consider these priests, for example. We know their
names, and occasionally the names of their successors pops up in a
genealogy somewhere. But they are indeed anonymous souls. They were
to tend the fire; each morning and each evening they were to perform
the ritual sacrifice of a lamb. Those that were faithful to their
charge lived a life of ordinary holiness. No one congratulated them
for their style; everyone else felt that it was their duty—as long
as they tended to it, no one else cared.
Constancy; ordinary holiness. No one sees but God and the
occasional bystander. How can this be to the glory of God?
· Consider constancy to your church. There are those who perform
the unknown or unpleasant tasks every week (someone’s got to change
· Consider constancy to your wife. This is a radical thought for
the church today which gasps when told sex outside marriage is
wrong. Perhaps your spouse has an opinion too.
· Constancy to your family. For the children who need your
attention, and the parents who are frail, you may be the steady rock
Constancy, you see, is an imitation of God. He is the same
today, yesterday and forever. He changes not. When you are doing his
will, neither should you. It may seem to you that your talents are
too great for so small a sphere. Consider it well: he has chosen the
place of service for you. You can accept it, you can ignore it. But
you cannot substitute your own; He will not allow it to prosper.
Little is much—when God is in it. Even great things amount to dust
if He is not.
You might ask how we are to keep this constancy. The answer is
found with these priests: they kept the fire burning constantly, and
made the same sacrifice every day. Keep the flame of faith lit.
Lord, we yearn to do great things. Teach us to do your
things—every day; teach us to keep the flame of faith lit.
It is difficult to understand a culture which has none of the
modern conveniences. The ancient Israelites—three thousand years
ago, and more—have these commands which seem strange to us.
In my younger days I knew a man from the tribal life in Kenya. He
told me that appointments were made for a time—but not a date! It
seemed that the only reason one would make an appointment was due to
travel. You didn’t know what day you would arrive; but at the set
time you would be at the designated point. Your friend had only to
go there once a day to be certain of finding you. This sounds very
strange to us. But he assured me that it worked well.
Consider: do you really need to know the future? Can you really
schedule it? We do so down to the last detail—but sometimes God has
other plans. The ancients recorded the past as important; we write
down what we think the future will hold. I could not say which is
the wiser; but the ancients had a much easier time with God’s
command to “take no thought for the morrow.”
We see this passage and wonder—would this really work? Could you
really do this with trumpets? The answer is yes. I lived in such a
system. In the late 1950’s I lived on an army post which still had a
live bugler (the last one). Reveille, Retreat, Mess Call, Mail Call
and the haunting melody of Taps ran the lives on that post. Until
World War II this was common. The key to making it work was that
everyone had to know the bugle calls. Someone blowing on a bugle
meant nothing; the right melodies counted.
So it is with God as he marshals the forces of history into the
coming of the Christ. These calls were blown to remind Israel of
God, and what he had done for them. They set Israel before the
Lord—and the Lord before Israel.
The Day is coming when the great and final trumpet call of
history will sound. Many interpret the signs this way and that, but
it is of no matter. He has made it clear that when the time comes,
He will break forth with Gabriel’s trumpet and time shall be no
more. Until then, His call is clear: “Ye that are men now serve Him,
against unnumbered foes; let courage rise with danger, and strength
to strength oppose.”
Lord, we long to see into the future; to know when you will
return. All we are given are the signs of your coming. Even so, Lord
Jesus, come soon!
Most of those acquainted with contemporary business practices
will be familiar with the phrase, “zero defects.” The object of this
practice is to make a process so reliable that the product produced
is without defect. As a practical matter, this is achieved when the
probability of one defect is very small. This requires careful
analysis and attention to detail. It is a fine goal—but often a
Ancient Israel was given two such targets of perfection: priest
and sacrifice. The priest must be free from bodily blemish or flaw;
the sacrifice likewise. Both of these point to the coming of the
truly effective sacrifice, the Lamb of God. But there are other
points given here which still apply today:
· Israelite and alien. It did not matter who you were; the
sacrifices were governed by the same rules. Today the church is
divided into sects and denominations—but still we celebrate the
sacrifice of Christ with the acceptable sacrifice of the humble and
· Species doesn’t matter. As long as the animal was clean,
ceremonially, it was acceptable. This tells us that the rich and the
poor stood alike before God. He is no “respecter of persons.”
· The sacrifice must be male. Of all points in these verses, this
is the most controversial. After all, the church now proclaims the
same vision of men and women as does the world—namely,
interchangeable parts. Why male? Perhaps, just perhaps, we have it
wrong. Perhaps Christ is male to the church’s female—and therefore
the sacrifice must be male.
All of these are required for one purpose: that the sacrifice
might be accepted. This we might understand with a modern parallel.
Have you ever been to a restaurant which did not accept your
favorite credit card? It happens, of course. That’s why most of us
carry more than one credit card. But one or many, our desire is that
the card be accepted in payment. Here God makes clear what is an
acceptable sacrifice in payment of sins: unblemished, male—according
to his purpose and plan. Only the Lamb of God fits this; His is the
only acceptable sacrifice.
Lord, we are quick to enjoy your blessings, but pained to share
in your sacrifice. Teach us your ways in this.
Only One Place
Deuteronomy 12:13-1 4
A curiosity of the Hebrew faith is its insistence on precisely
one spot on earth being suitable for the Temple. The site is
currently occupied by a mosque named The Dome of the Rock; but
Judaism, Christianity and Islam agree: this is the site on which
Solomon built the Temple. There is no other acceptable site. Pagan
religions would construct temples as it seemed good to them; the
ancient Hebrew had only one site. This thought was so strong among
them that when the kingdom of Israel was split into Israel and
Judah, Jeroboam, the new king of Israel, understood clearly that if
the Temple were to remain the one place of worship, his kingship
would soon end, as he did not control that site. So he took a note
from Aaron and cast two golden calves. By this he was able to split
God’s people. From then on, Israel worshiped whatever god seemed
Indeed, the lesson is not lost today. If there is to be unity in
Christ’s church, it must follow the example of the singular temple.
But how? By following the same purposes that the Temple had for
· The Temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations. Can the
church of today say the same? Or do we politely exclude those who
are not “one of us?” Even the alien was welcome at the Temple;
Solomon prayed specifically that God might hear the alien’s prayer
and grant it for His name’s sake.
· The Temple was a house of sacrifice. Offerings were brought
there too; but it was designated the house of sacrifice. Only that
site would do. Can we say the same about the church today? Is it
true that we bring our sacrifices to the house of the Lord, his
· The Temple was the dwelling place of the Name of God. His name
was held in such high honor that even today there are Jews who will
not pronounce it. Is the name of God held in such high honor by
those who claim to be his children?
Jeroboam was right. If you do not control the house of prayer,
the house of sacrifice, the place where God’s Name dwells, you
cannot be king over his people. Who is the king, if not Christ? Does
he hold our prayer, our sacrifice; do we honor his Name?
Lord, it is easy to call you friend; hard to call you Lord. Hear
our prayers; accept our sacrifices; teach us to honor your Name.
Leaven and Honey
It should not be necessary to tell you this, but a reminder never
hurts: there are things in the Bible which we may never understand.
I’m not speaking of the deep mysteries of prophecy, nor the
profound wisdom of God. Plain, ordinary things from three thousand
years ago may be mysterious to us today. This verse is an example.
Leaven (which is bread yeast) is something easy to understand.
You do not offer it to God in a burnt offering . Why?
· To begin with, the Israelite was to remember the Exodus—when
they were in such a hurry to leave Egypt that they had no time to
let the leaven ferment in the bread. Hence the use of unleavened
bread (matzo) in sacrifices and in kosher cooking for Passover.
· Next, it is also the symbol of corruption. This is not always
the case, but in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament it is
used to symbolize the corruption of sin. Sin must not be used in the
sacrifices; therefore, no leaven.
· Finally, there is some evidence that this prohibition set the
Israelites apart from other worshipers. The baking of sweet cakes to
be sacrificed to idols was well known. The Israelites were to have
nothing to do with it.
All this is clear enough, and amply justified throughout the
Scripture. But what’s with honey? Why is it prohibited?
· Some think this is because of the cakes the heathen sacrificed;
these would not be acceptable to God since they were made for an
· Others hold that it’s natural sweetness—and God would accept
only prepared items. (Huh?)
· Others simply note this: burnt honey stinks.
Perhaps the ancient Israelites knew the reason; we really don’t.
But that is not unusual; God often calls us to do things his way, at
his command, even when we cannot see the reason. Perhaps this is to
teach us obedience to his will without knowing the reason. His way
is perfect. He never said you’d see it; He just said it is.
Lord, so often we reply with “why?” or “yes, but.” Teach us to
see the blessings of sweet, simple obedience.
Thanksgiving Peace Offerings
As you read through Leviticus it may seem that God had an unusual
set of rules for his sacrifices. It’s like tax law; you need to call
in an expert. Or so it seems, sometimes.
Take this little passage as an example. It is the only place in
the Bible where “thanksgiving peace offerings” are even mentioned.
It seems a little strange, too:
· It is the only type of offering with which one can bring
leavened bread (what we would call real bread.) With all other
offerings, it is forbidden as a sign of sin.
· It is the only type of peace offering which must be totally
consumed on the same day of the sacrifice. All other peace offerings
give you an extra day.
To understand why, you need one other fact: this is the only
offering in the Old Testament law which is completely voluntary.
Indeed, with all other offerings you get instructions on when you
should offer them—this offering you hear only how.
Why? Well, first consider what kind of event might trigger this.
This is an offering both of thanksgiving and peace; the kind of
offering you’d make because God had somehow greatly blessed you—and
you wanted to say thanks to Him. Even today there are those who
offer a special gift upon joyous occasions, such as the birth of a
child (or grandchild).
So what is God’s command in this? Party hearty! You brought that
cow to sacrifice, barbeque it all today. Let the whole neighborhood
know that God has blessed you. Make sure there are no leftovers but
paper hats and confetti.
Is this really of importance today? Consider it this way: suppose
you hit the lottery—big time. Let’s say they hand you a check for
fifty million dollars. Have you ever said to yourself, “If I ever
hit the lottery, I would…”? Big time giver, right? The preacher
would remember that day, right? Well, says God, get to it. Don’t let
that nagging instinct to hold everything back stop you from being
generous. Acknowledge what the Lord has done for you.
Now, is this just for those who hit the lottery? No; it is for
those whom God has blessed in some special way. Honor God with your
gifts in times of joy.
Lord, we share our sorrows with you, seeking your comfort. When
you bless us greatly, teach us to share our joys as well.
The Old Testament sacrifices draw for us a picture of the Passion
of Christ; here, in this passage, is some of the explanation.
Alone among the major religions of the world, the symbol of
Christianity is a simple cross. It looks innocuous at first—until
you hear why it is the symbol of the followers of Christ. Our Lord
was executed and execrated at the same time. His death was that of a
criminal, a shameful death. A reproach.
Here we are told that we must share in that reproach. In the Old
Testament, sacrifices for sin had their blood poured out before the
altar—but the meat of the sacrifices was not eaten. Instead, someone
would take the carcass outside the camp and burn it. It is the
forerunner of the Crucifixion. It was no accident that Christ was
crucified outside the city walls of Jerusalem.
We are his disciples. We are the ones who follow his discipline;
those who are of “the way,” as the early church put it. As such, we
are not privileged above our Lord and Master. If he suffered
reproach, it is fitting that we should too. You might think that
this would hinder our witness to the world. On the contrary, the
ever present paradox is present: when I am strong, I am weak—for God
does not sustain me. But when I am weak, I am strong—in His
This, one must admit, is not the most motivational of thoughts.
We like to dwell on success, not suffering. Our Lord understands
· So He tells you that when you are reviled for his sake, you are
blessed. How so? At the very least it makes it clear just which side
you’re on. And if you read the back of the book you’ll see that it’s
the winning side.
· Remember, to be reproached for the sake of Christ—because you
are a Christian—is a badge of honor. It tells you and all others
that you are one worthy to suffer for the Name. Satan has looked at
you and decided he has to do something about you. God permits it—so
that your faith might be strengthened.
· When it gets tough, remember this: if you share in His
sufferings, you will share in His glory.
Lord, none of us enjoy suffering. Ridicule is painful. Strengthen
us that we might be worthy of your Name.
A Look in the Mirror
1 Samuel 6:1-6
The Philistines were simply following the custom of the times.
The winners of the battle felt themselves quite entitled to rape and
pillage the losers. It was considered part of the payment for being
a foot soldier.
One of the things you would gather up would be the gods of the
losers. Those gods might or might not be as strong as your own—but
it never hurts to have both sets of gods on your side, right? So we
must attribute to these poor heathen at least a little naiveté.
The custom of the time was simple. You took their gods and placed
them in the temple of your gods—thus showing the superiority of your
gods. When the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, they
put it in the temple of their god, Dagon. This didn’t turn out too
well. Next morning Dagon was found face down in front of the Ark. No
harm, no foul; prop him back up. The following morning he’s face
down again, with his head and hands missing. Things are getting
Meanwhile life has been none too pleasant amongst the victors.
There’s a rather bad plague going around; the crops are overrun with
mice—and we have a little problem: hemorrhoids. Life is painful.
About this time the Philistines decide the Ark needs to go on tour.
The folks in Ashdod send it to Gath (Goliath’s home town). The
plague, the mice and the inability to sit still go with it. So the
folks in Gath try to send it to Ekron.
No dice. So they call in the magicians. These guys remember what
happened in Egypt. Solution? Get rid of it as soon as possible. And
send a guilt offering with it. They acknowledge the source of their
problems by making the offering of golden mice - and hemorrhoids.
They give us one good bit of advice: “Do not harden your hearts.”
How often we, three thousand years later, miss that advice! Have you
ever had that warning from God about what you’re doing—the warning
you ignored? You said, “It was just a coincidence.” Coincidence? Or
God trying to warn you gently that you are in sin and need to get
out? If you’ve been through this before, you know that the warnings
become more and more severe. But if you harden your heart, the time
will come when God will turn you over to your sins. When he does,
remember: you were warned.
Lord, open our eyes and our ears so that we might heed your
gentle correction in the time of your favor.
1 Samuel 15:22
This passage sounds rather strange to modern ears—for modern ears
are accustomed to the sly rebellion shown here.
A little background: Saul, the king of Israel anointed despite
the objections of Samuel, the prophet, has been given his
instructions. He is to utterly destroy the Amelekites—people and
livestock both. No trace of them is to be left.
Saul, in his own wisdom, saw what he thought was the better way.
Clearly, he thought, we could spare the livestock. And what a trophy
the king of the Amelekites would be; how proud we would be to have
him grovel for his food at the king’s table. So Saul kept the king
alive, and distributed the livestock. He then concocted his excuse
for Samuel’s benefit. Surely the prophet would see the sweet
reasonableness of Saul’s actions, right? And even if he didn’t, Saul
was sincere. It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re
sincere, right? Think how big the sacrifice would be!
This is “sly rebellion.” We substitute our own reasoning for the
command of God, complaining that God wrote this stuff thousands of
years ago, clearly not intending it to be taken literally today. Do
you need an example? Sex outside of marriage used to be called a
sin; even from the pulpit. Now, of course, we realize that God had
not contemplated birth control pills and women’s liberation; but
fortunately we’ve helped him in that regard. Those passages are all
now considered “cultural.”
Do you think it doesn’t matter—as long as we’re sincere? Consider
this: the world at large pays no attention to the church’s railings
against homosexual marriage. They know that it’s just a matter of
time before this is accepted just as adultery, fornication and
divorce are commonly accepted in the church today. The world
knows—we don’t really mean it. We have rejected God; he will now
What can you do about it? First—read the Scriptures! If you are
puzzled, read a commentary from a century ago, before this mess
arose. Then—be obedient to what you have learned. Even if you don’t
understand it, be obedient.
Do not be one who “adjusts” the Scripture for every whim of
thought that passes by; do not associate with those who do. Be
obedient; that is what God rewards.
Lord, we trust so much to our own wisdom, thinking you must
agree. Give us a season to repent.
Some years ago the scientists at Cal Tech were busy preparing a
recording to go on the Voyager spacecraft. It was decided that one
side would be sounds of our world; the other, music. So they went to
one of the professors in the music department and asked what they
should put on it. “Bach, nothing but Bach,” he replied. “We can
apologize for the rest later. They’ll understand we wanted to put
our best foot forward..” It is to be regretted that his advice was
not taken; Bach was replaced by Johnny B. Good.
I once attended a church that knew all about Bach. The music
before the service came from a magnificent pipe organ, set in a
beautiful replica of a Gothic cathedral. The choir would process
down the center aisle to open the worship with great music. It was,
simply, thrilling. Alas, it was all for show.
If you’d like a reputation as a great Christian without really
having to do the work, join the church choir. Everyone thinks the
people in the choir are something special, and often they are right.
But do recall that in most choirs the scrutiny applied to the
singers is mostly in the form of sharps and flats. It’s entirely
possible to be a fraud of a Christian and an excellent tenor at the
Now, this is not meant to cast aspersions on the church choir.
The reputation of most is well enough earned; there are no
counterfeits unless the real thing is of value. The danger lies in
the fact that humans are perfectly capable of self-deception. The
thrill of the special music, the soaring counterpoint of Bach in
praise of his God, these things are all good. One is closest to
heaven when singing God’s praises. But for some this becomes the
substitute for the life of the disciple. We start by fooling others;
we end by fooling ourselves—which makes us, of course, fools.
By all means, sing in the choir. Work at it diligently; those of
us who are sharp and flat shower singers love to hear it. But do not
neglect the weightier matters: righteousness and justice. Let your
service in song be the shining exterior of a life which glows with
the goodness, righteousness and justice of God.
The Voyager spacecraft is gone, now. Into the deep void of space,
someday (perhaps) the craft will arrive in alien hands. Those alien
ears will hear Johnny B. Good. We could have sent them Bach. When
your Voyager arrives, what will God hear from you?
Lord, do not let us deceive ourselves. Do what you need to do so
that we may bring you both the good and the best.
Let me put the problem to you in terms of a practical example.
You are the leader of a church in the poorest section of town. One
of the members of your congregation is the local Mafia boss. (Hey,
Mafia bosses have to have a church too.) The church needs a new
roof, and there is no money. So you announce a special giving
You know where the Mafioso’s money comes from; you see it every
· How many marriages were ruined by the prostitution which now so
flagrantly exists in our time?
· Does drug addiction take its toll? Some would have us think it
a harmless thing, needing only legalization. But the church sees the
ruin of the lives touched by it.
· How often this church sees a wife begging to borrow money to
replace the rent money gambled away.
All these things can be (and are) justified by the liberal
thinkers who now run our governments. Progressive minds, it seems,
see this as a source of revenue untapped by the government. The
church sees the human carnage.
So tell me: do you accept his generous check? No one else will
match it—and the roof leaks.
But it can get worse. Suppose his gift comes with strings
attached—he want you to stop preaching about prostitution, drugs and
gambling.. He’s a business man; it’s a wise investment.
Whatever your answer would be, you know what it should be. But in
this take heart: God sees, and God acts. God does not accept the
sacrifices and offerings of the wicked man; how much more so when
the gift comes with evil intent!
You know the answer in this case, but consider the matter in your
own life. Are there the little temptations to cut the corners, to
“forget” to record the income, to walk just inside the law—thinking
that if it’s legal, it’s moral? You can always justify them (to
yourself) by saying, “It means I can give more to the church.” And
perhaps you can. But you should know beforehand that whatever comes
that way, God will not bless. He desires your righteousness, not an
Lord, teach us to value what you value; may our offerings come to
you from clean hands and pure hearts.
What Does God Want?
Any husband can tell you what he can’t tell you: what she wants.
She knows, he doesn’t. This once got to the point that I told my
wife that if I didn’t get a wish list for her birthday, she was
getting a seven foot polar bear. (One of children’s favorite
stories, when they were little, was that of a seven foot polar bear
who made life miserable for everyone in the house.) She didn’t
believe me. As the full seven foot size bear (at Abercrombie and
Fitch) was over a thousand dollars, I settled on a stuffed polar
bear officially named “Seven Foot.” Shortly thereafter she blessed
me with a teddy bear wearing an eye patch.
Unlike my wife, however, God is rather clear on what he wants
from his people. The first thing in this verse is translated in
various ways; here are three:
· One word is loyalty. Those who are pious on Sunday and skeptics
on Monday are not pleasing to God. He wants people he can count on.
· Anther translation is mercy. God is merciful; so merciful that
Christ went to the Cross. He wants his people to be like Him, to be
· Yet another phrase for this is steadfast love. Many of us
delight in the passion of the moment; God is looking for the kind of
love that produces fifty year marriages.
Beyond this, God seeks those who will know him, personally. (The
NIV uses the word “acknowledge,” but this does not convey the
meaning of the word correctly). How do you get to know the Almighty
· By your study. Be one who is found frequently in the Word.
· By your prayer. Speak with him on all occasions, and listen for
· By the Holy Spirit. As He guides you, follow and take action.
The bear with the eye patch is holding a bouquet of roses in one
paw. The roses of loyalty, mercy and love are always sweet in the
sight of God.
Lord, it is easy for us to become enthused upon hearing a great
sermon; the spur of the moment is often the only spur we can feel.
Teach us, Lord, by study, by prayer and by your Spirit to bring the
offering of loyalty, mercy and love.
It is not clear from reading just the verses cited, but Amos the
Prophet is issuing a dire warning. In the verses preceding he
describes “the Day of the Lord.” Alternately called the “Day of
Wrath,” it is a day which springs from the very righteousness and
justice of God.
Look at it this way: do you think Adolf Hitler got everything he
deserved in this life? Nor do I; nor do I think God is finished with
him yet. As God is righteous, there must be a judgment at which the
wrath of God comes down upon the deserving who have not sought mercy
in his Name.
Chief among the sinners on that day will be those who thought
themselves secure in their relationship with God. These are those
who led the pageantry in the worship of God—but neglected the
weightier matters. It is no accident that Jesus reserved his
harshest words and dramatic actions for those hypocrites who claimed
to be religious but were actually frauds; hypocrites.
Note one thing: the verbs in this passage. It’s not that God
doesn’t approve of such worship; he hates it. He rejects it. As with
Christ and the Pharisees, the anger that burns, the zeal for the
Name of the Lord, is the only hope of the hypocrite.
Of course, we think, this does not apply to us. But consider
well: they thought the same thing. Surely God could not reject his
chosen people, especially those who bring burnt offerings to him!
Can we not hear the same today—”I give a lot to the church,” or “I’m
in the choir every Sunday.” These things are good—but not at the
neglect of the greater things.
Are you one whose wealth and position make you able to give
generously to the church? Good! Do so generously. But do not neglect
justice. True, a Christian does not always get justice—but a child
of God should always give true justice on every occasion. Let it
flood out from you like an overflowing well. Do not neglect
righteousness. God expects it to come out from you like water in a
river that cannot run dry,
On the day of wrath, many will say to him, “Lord, Lord.” He will
say to them, “depart.” How bitter it will be for those who sang his
praises but never took him as Lord of their lives.
Lord, it appears that being such a hypocrite is a powerful
delusion, the image of righteousness over the stench of death. Teach
us to examine our ways, so that we may come home to you.
There once was an advertisement in a trade magazine for dentists.
Its intent was to motivate dentists to subscribe to a certain credit
card, taking it in payment. It showed a young couple going through a
stack of bills. Coming upon one, the husband said, “Oh, it’s just
the dentist—he won’t mind if we’re late.”
The advertisement was a roaring success. Dentists signed up to
offer the card in huge numbers. The ad struck a nerve. Dentists
cannot afford to be grouchy people. The customer likes to have the
impression that the dentist is really a nice guy who would never
have gone into this profession to practice sadism on the
unsuspecting patient. Nice guys, it seems, don’t get their bills
paid on time.
Sometimes we take the same attitude towards God. For one reason
or other we promise God that we will do something—and then put off
doing it. This is most unwise; if you have promised, then you should
deliver promptly. Delay is dangerous:
· It is dangerous because you may become unwilling to keep your
promise. In the crisis you needed God; now, you’re not so sure.
· It is dangerous because you may become unable to keep your
promise. Things change; tomorrow might not be so good as today.
· It is dangerous because of the temptation to half measures. Oh,
we’re still sincere—just stingy.
· It is very dangerous because it may lead to forgetfulness. When
the crisis is over we tend to forget the promises we made.
Strangely, we think God does too.
· Finally, it is dangerous because others may be watching you.
Your example may tell them all they need to know about the followers
As Solomon assures us, God takes no pleasure in fools. He expects
you to honor your word to Him, and promptly. Do not assume he will
wait in idleness; after all, this is your character we are talking
about. Did you think He would not act?
Lord, the morals of many are very loose in our time. Keeping
promises seems to require a lawyer’s contract these days. You need
no such thing; teach us to respect that.
This passage has excited great commentary within the minds of
Christian scholars. Why was Abel’s sacrifice acceptable; Cain’s was
not? It is clear we have no record of any instructions on the
subject at this early time. Yet both brothers felt the need to offer
a sacrifice to God. How, then, did God decide to accept Abel’s
sacrifice but not Cain’s?
It is a matter of faith. We find something similar with Abraham.
The Law of Moses is several hundred years in the future; but God
takes the faith of Abraham and calls it righteousness. Cain was
certainly not a righteous man; we may infer from his comment (“Am I
my brother’s keeper?”) that his relationship with God was based on
fear, not trust.
Still, the tidy mind likes to know: just what was it that Cain
did wrong? It is impossible to know unless we know what God
commanded. But in this instance, it seems God has commanded nothing
in particular. Yet Abel is accepted; Cain is not. The distinction is
based not on their relationship to the law—but their interpretation
of God’s silence.
Can silence be a message? Every married man knows the answer to
that. (Which is not to say we understand what the message is; merely
that there is one.) What message is God sending when you hear
nothing but silence?
· Perhaps the message is “wait upon the Lord.” Silence—to be
followed with instruction later. Patience, child.
· Could it be that you are to stand still—and like Moses and the
children of Israel, see the glory of the Lord?
· Perhaps he has become silent as a teacher sometimes does—so
that you will be silent too, and hear instruction clearly.
· If there is sin in your life, perhaps he is giving you a space
of time to repent.
· Perhaps it is simply this: in imitation of your Lord before his
tribunals, you are to keep silent in your suffering.
But know this: God does not entrust his silences to beginners. He
knows they can’t handle it. But as you mature he will give you those
silences, and the blessings that come with them.
Lord, how often do we take silence in the wrong way. Teach us to
discern your hand of grace when your voice seems silent.
To The Egress
One of the most amiable of swindlers ever to grace the American
scene was P. T. Barnum. Circus founder, showman, impresario, he
understood the American sense of humor in fine detail.
Take, for instance, his museum of oddities established in New
York City. One of the exhibits advertised was the “Six Foot Man
Eating Chicken!” (Exclamation marks followed Barnum everywhere he
went.) Paying your two bits, you went in to discover exactly that: a
man, six feet tall, eating chicken.
In order to get the crowds through (and increase his revenue) he
put up signs saying, “To The Egress.” People would follow these
signs down several twists and turns, finally coming upon a
door—which opened onto the streets. “Egress” means the same as
“exit.” People were so amused that it became a joke to send someone
in with glowing tales of the egress.
Barnum understood that we can be swindled—if we are entertained
in the process. But the swindler is usually not in that business. He
depends upon the trust of his victims; at the very last moment he
substitutes something of no value for the promised reward. He then
leaves the area—but looking good until the last day.
Religious people are a particular target for such people. The
swindler depends upon trust; religious folks are those who practice
trust. Indeed, schemes of religious swindlers are often the more
outrageous because God often does the improbable. It looks
good—right to the last day.
We may look back on P. T. Barnum with chuckling fondness at his
ability to extract money from the swindled while amusing them at the
same time. But please, do be assured that God is not amused at
swindlers who use His name. Very rarely does the Old Testament use
the phrase, “cursed be…” Similarly, Christ reserves his wrath for
the hypocrites—who were the religious swindlers of their time. In
the name of God they would dispossess a widow from her home. The
religious swindlers of our day are indeed hypocrites—and in six
thousand years God’s curse upon them has not varied a bit. So—what
you promise to God, deliver. He takes no pleasure in fools.
Lord of heaven and earth, grant that the hypocrisy among us will
be strangled at birth. Keep such deception far from us; lead us not
into temptation—that one, in particular.
A Dog’s Wages
It is a solid and shameful fact. At the early service in our
congregation, attended largely by the older members of the church,
the pastor remarked—almost in passing—that “sex outside of marriage
is wrong.” There was a distinctly audible gasp.
I’m not sure why. I was about to go, “Amen, brother” when I
realized just how much of a minority I was. It has now become a
scandal that the preacher of a large, modern church would hold such
archaic views. Preach on, brother.
Such a view is not new. It seems that God had to explicitly tell
the Israelites his opinion on the subject. The two items mentioned
here are simply wages earned by a prostitute. The harlot is a female
prostitute, of course; “dog” means a homosexual male prostitute. God
makes it clear that an offering from such wages is utterly
unacceptable to him—no matter how sincere the whore.
Today, of course, we have no whores. Not even prostitutes; the
newspapers use the politically correct phrase “sex workers.” Why?
Everyone approves of sex, at least in some fashion. Work is still a
four letter word, but generally taken as positive. So how could we
disapprove? Wait until we get to “income redistribution specialists”
(formerly known as thieves and bank robbers.)
It seems that God Almighty is a touch more fussy about this than
we are. He will accept no offering or sacrifice from our hands which
comes from evil. Why not? He is holy, and can have no fellowship
But wait; is it not the case that we are his children, noted for
our family likeness to Him? So I am told. What, then, does this say
about us? Are we willing to accept the results of fraud or theft as
payment? Do we wink at the dishonesty which seems profitable? The
matter can easily be examined in your life:
· Let’s start with your taxes. Are all the deductions legitimate?
Or did your tax man identify some “opportunities” for you?
· Or should we begin with your business? Do your customers know
and trust you? Do you earn that trust?
· What about your insurance claims? Are they insurance, or a
Should God accept an offering from you—from these sources?
Lord, in our dealings with others, let us be your children—not
just honest, but holy.