Tag Archives: purpose

Obedience

Many years ago, Keith Green wrote a song for the church called “To Obey Is Greater than Sacrifice.” The words [1] are powerful: (you can hear it here)

To obey is better than sacrifice
I don’t need your money, I want your life
And I hear you say that I’m coming back soon
But you act like I’ll never return

Well you speak of grace and my love so sweet
How you thrive on milk but reject my meat
And I can’t help weeping of how it will be
If you keep on ignoring my words
Well you pray to prosper and succeed
But your flesh is something I just can’t feed

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want more than Sundays and Wednesday nights
‘Cause if you can’t come to me everyday
Then don’t bother coming at all

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want hearts of fire, not your prayers of ice
And I’m coming quickly to give back to you
According to what you have done
According to what you have done
According to what you have done

The words of the song, though, gain their authority from the Scriptures.

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.” (1 Samuel 15:22, ESV)

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6, ESV)

Jesus referred to the Hosea passage as recorded by Matthew and Mark. His disciples are going through the fields gleaning grain on the sabbath. When the Pharisees saw this they complained that Jesus and his disciples were breaking the law. Jesus reminds them that David gleaned on the Sabbath, but then he teaches us all a tremendous lesson, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice.”

I think it interesting that steadfast love requires a greater sacrifice than many of the things we consider sacrificial. The sum of the Law of God is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and minds, and strength. This love if God requires loving our neighbors as well. To obey is greater than sacrifice.

Loving God fulfills the Law. The first of the Ten Commandments tells us to love God, and God alone. This is the beginning. Faith starts here. Anything that is not loving God is a distraction from our purpose and life. To obey is greater than sacrifice.

So, what keeps you from total obedience loving God? I don’t need to make suggestions for you to discover your distractions. We all have them. The bottom line is, what takes you away from God? What has become more important than him? What prevents you from gathering at church? What keeps us from fellowshipping with other believers? Whatever it is, we should strive to put it aside and love God as best as we can. Our prayers will change from asking God for things to praising God for what he has already given. Our time with God will excite us to study his word with diligence because if God said it, it is the most important thing for me to hear and know. When we read Scripture, we will not skip over the hard stuff, or the boring stuff, because we know that God gave it all to us for our benefit.

To obey is greater than sacrifice. True obedience takes a lifetime to learn.

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6–8, ESV)

 

[1] copied from https://www.metrolyrics.com/to-obey-is-better-than-sacrifice-lyrics-keith-green.html

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The Chief End of Man

There have always been Christians and non-Christians speculating on the end of the world. There are those who keep trying to tell us when the Rapture, the tribulation, and the final judgment of all mankind will take place. This has been done ever since the early days of the church.[1] Christians are not alone in this fanciful speculation. Take the movie 2012. We love catastrophic movies and books so much, that we are uncritically accepting the same kind of thinking by the scientific community building their models and guessing on what is going to happen.

My suggestion to all of it is to give it up. Why focus on the end of life and society? The Westminster Shorter Catechism makes clear just what the end of mankind is: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

What a shift in our outlook this offers. We can cast off all fears of what is going to happen tomorrow. We become indifferent to circumstance. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we care about the glory of God above all else. We recognize that our humanness is not something evolved from anything. We know better! We are created beings. Created to display God’s being. We are created in his image.

The difficulty is that we don’t act that way. The church of the Middle Ages recognized this with their Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust. What’s more, we humans have redefined most of these things into virtues. We can only do this if we cast off God the Creator and replace him with God the created.

Why is it that all governments want to control our lives “from cradle to grave?” Only because we, not just the politicians, have removed God from his throne of glory and replaced him with ourselves. Government is good. It is God-ordained. Yet this can only be true if we remember that the purpose of all human government is to glorify God and to aid each of us to glorify him and enjoy our relationship with our Creator.

Little children look up to their parents. They want to be like mom and dad. Can this be why Jesus said we must become like little children? Could this be the meaning Jesus intended when he said, “Let the children come to me?” Our Father wants us to come to him, to make our concerns known to him, be comforted by him.

I don’t remember a lot about being a little child. However, there is one memory that is seared into my mind and heart. I remember walking with my dad and my hand was too small to hold his hand. So I would grab onto his index finger and squeeze. Holding that finger was my comfort and joy because my dad was everything to me.

My dad would be the first to acknowledge that when I was that age, and even to the moment of his death, he was really a stand-in for my true Father. Holding my dad’s finger made me believe that nothing could happen that would cause me harm. How much greater is it to hang on to our Father in heaven and proclaim, “Hallowed be thy name.”

 

[1] see The Day and the Hour

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Essential

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, both State and Federal governments have designated some people as essential to the recovery due to their job functions. The rest of us are evidently non-essential because we were told to stay home. If your in the same situation as I am, how does it feel to be a non-essential person? I ask this because some stores remain open and others not. If you are a market you must stay open. If you are a liquor store you should be closed.

Some have pointed out that allowing the government at any level to segregate the population into essential and not essential can have serious consequences for the future (see here). It may become an issue or it may not. It does make any student of history think of Hitler, Stalin, and others.

Instead, I want to suggest that we are all essential to God. It started at the beginning:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”” (Genesis 1:26, ESV)

We, human beings, male and female were the pinnacle of God’s creation. Nothing else was made in his image. Nothing else was given dominion over all of creation. That seems to me to be pretty important. When we look at each other, God wanted us to see him. And, he wanted all the rest of creation to see him too.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:19–20, ESV)

I am not really interested in what the government says about us. We are all essential. And while many of us are told to stay home, I think there has been too little concern for the things that make us human. We have friends and family who we love but cannot touch them or even see them unless it is done electronically. We have work that gives us purpose and provides for our needs. We have Spiritual needs as well. After all, God started this whole thing in the beginning.

I believe these needs are as essential as caring for patients with COVID-19. No one wants to spread the virus. Everyone wants to stop the disease. People created with reasoning minds can and will take steps necessary for protection. So is this “quarantine” really as necessary as has been made of it? I don’t know and I don’t claim to know. However, there are some things I do know.

First, there are always more options than the one taken. The one chosen after careful thought and study may be the best one. But there are many smart people in this world and they don’t all agree on the path to take. There may also be things that were not considered when making decisions. This brings me back to the importance of community.

It also is a reminder that we all need enough humility to say, “Maybe I’m wrong.” In the state where I live, the governor put a ban on fishing among other things. It took a lot of pressure from the public to finally get him to lift the ban even though the numbers haven’t really changed as much as he originally claimed they needed to.

Second, about other options, take a look at this YouTube video by John Stossel.  I’m not saying Sweden has it right and we don’t. Time will tell. Maybe. Maybe the U.S. and Sweden are both right.

So, here is the essential idea to take from this blog. God is bigger than COVID-19. Yes, many people have gotten sick, some have died. And I don’t want to make light of any of this. However, none of us have been invited to the counsel of God to know what he is about. But I know he is about something. And I am sure in faith to know that God did not permit this virus to completely destroy those who bear his image.

And remember, we are essential, even if we are restaurant servers, teachers, pastors, or retired. We are essential to God, and just maybe that should be enough.

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Is This the End?

I remember when I was a child reading a book about Chicken Little. Almost everyone knows this parable in some form. The basic story is that one day an acorn falls from an oak tree and hits Chicken Little in the head. His conclusion was the sky was falling, and his mission became to spread the news of the coming disaster. The ending changes from tale to tale and is either positive or negative. On his way to tell the king, Chicken Little tells all the birds and animals he comes across. The last is the fox, who offers his den as protection.

The sad ending is that the fox eats them all. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear. The happy ending (not for the fox!) is they all escape and make it to the king. Be strong and courageous, and things will turn out well.

As with all moralistic stories, they are parables and must be limited in application. Chicken Little was more than merely mistaken. If he had taken a moment to investigate and not make an irrational conclusion, nothing would have happened from it. If the other animals had inquired into what Chicken Little was claiming, they might have realized that the idea of the sky falling is nonsense.

What reminded me of this story is an interpretation of the Corona Virus, which has resulted in tragedy and disruption of life is a judgment of God. The same argument has been made through the centuries for plagues and natural disasters. However, I believe that in each case, we have called the falling sky a curse from God, we border on the flaw of Chicken Little’s irrationalism and the others’ blind acceptance of the claim.

There are thinking people in the church who have called us to not speak of judgment but of compassion, love, and a call to service. I may agree or disagree with their reasoning. Still, I do believe that one of the things I have noticed during this critical time is that many people who are not necessarily religious have given of themselves for the sake of their neighbor. Judgment or not, this arises, I believe, from the nature of all mankind having been created in the image of God.

Whether or not people believe in Christ for their salvation from sin, they have, for the most part, rejected the evolutionary concept of the survival of the fittest. If that maxim was right, we would let the virus run rampant and not mourn those who, in their weakness, die. Yet even atheists, agnostics, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and every other kind of faith you can think of, have joined in the effort to reduce the effect of this and other diseases.

So, I am thanking God for showing us all that we are his creation and that our care for one another is a loving example of his glory.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5–7, ESV)

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Covid-19 Questions, part 2

So far, I have presented Ignatius of Loyola’s Principles at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises. The foundational principles are that humanity’s created purpose is to praise, reverence, and serve God and that the purpose of everything else in creation exists for us to use in the fulfillment of our end. However, when it comes to describing how this might look in life and practice, Ignatius uses the word indifferent.

“For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things…”

What does he mean? Doesn’t indifferent mean not to care? Aren’t we supposed to care about all of creation? The answer to that last question is a resounding, “Yes!” So what does he mean using the word indifferent?

Webster’s first definition for indifferent is, “marked by impartiality: UNBIASED.” (Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary., 2003.) Likewise is Noah Webster’s 1928 Dictionary, “Neutral; not inclined to one side, party or thing more than to another.” (Noah Webster, Noah Webster’s first edition of An American Dictionary of the English language., 2006.) Is this not what Ignatius means? He is not saying we should not care but we should not judge one thing against another in any other terms than the glory of God. Read how he explains it:

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created. (Ignatius Spiritual Exercises, 19. Emphasis mine.).

This is the point. If I am devoted to the glory of God, and to Jesus Christ and his kingdom, then my condition, my circumstances, and my worldly desires should always be of a minor import compared to the purpose of my creation, of my calling in Christ, and of my praise, reverence, and worship to God.

I don’t know about you, but I find this a most difficult way to live. Truth be told, I fail all the time. However, there is great news. Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God and covered our sin with his blood. Moreover, following his Ascension to the Throne, he has sent his Spirit to enable us to follow Christ in all things.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26, ESV)

And now, I have some questions about our current worldwide situation with the Corona Virus. I remind you that I have no absolute answers to my questions. They are questions of who is in charge of my life and what he desires of me. Each individual may or may not have to struggle as I do. I am called by God to love and serve him. Part of this service includes all of his Laws of justice and mercy. I do not want to harm my neighbor by spreading this virus. But some of what we are called by our world to do, such as “social distancing” seems to contradict other requirements. For example,

  1. How can the church worship without the main aspect of worship which is gathering?
  2. How can the church gather without human contact?
  3. Most obviously one of my answers was to start this blog. Yet I am deeply aware that a blog has nothing to do with communal worship. What else should I be doing?
  4. We are entering the holiest time of the year with the passion of Christ and his resurrection. How can the church celebrate when the church does not gather?
  5. If the church cannot celebrate the gospel through worship, what is our testimony to the world around us? Can God be truly glorified apart from our communal worship?

The easy answers to me are that God is glorified by our willingness to work with our communities to stop the spread of a disease. Yet this does not seem adequate to me. How did Christ deal with the sickness around him? How have his servants dealt with crisis and danger? How many saints went to the fire singing hymns of joy? Why did Martin Luther and his wife open their homes when the plague hit Wittenberg? Why did so many Christians continue to gather (yes, secretly) in Communist-ruled countries that wanted to quash all religions?

So, my personal predicament in all of this is fear of death over the fear of the Lord? God help me because my heart moves one way while my life lives another. May our God answer our prayers to end this pandemic. May he answer our prayers to love him above all else.

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Covid-19 Questions, part 1

I last wrote about our true comfort in all times of crisis, times of joy, and the times in between. I do believe that we can find comfort even in the present time of fear and uncertainty. Yet, I can’t help some nagging questions that lie in a corner of my mind.

Let me quote St. Ignatius of Loyola:

     Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.
And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.
From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created. (Saint Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1914), 19.)

This passage he calls Principle and Foundation. The principle is two-fold. First is to state the purpose of God in creating human beings. We are made to praise, reverence, and serve the Lord. This is close to the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s first question:

What is the chief end of man? Man’ s chief end is to glorify God, (1 Cor. 10:31, Rom. 11:36) and to enjoy him forever. (Ps. 73:25–28). (The Westminster Shorter Catechism: With Scripture Proofs, 3rd edition., (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).)

I know that most Protestants might feel uncomfortable with the statement “by this means to save his soul.” It does sound like works salvation. However, James speaks openly about works and faith.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14, ESV)

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:17–20, ESV)

Thus, to say that the works of bringing praise, reverence, and service to God saves us is correct if taken that these things are works coming out of our faith.

The second principle states the purpose of everything else that God created which is to be used to accomplish the first principle. I don’t believe that all of creation is strictly utilitarian. However, the intricacy, beauty, diversity, and all other aspects of creation bring us pleasure. How much more God’s pleasure seeing humans created in his image appreciating all things. I believe that our delight in food, drink, music, nature, and more is to praise God. Our gratitude for all things does reverence God. Our service in caring for all of creation brings glory to God.

This two-fold foundation may be the hardest thing for humans born in sin, even by faith to live by. All of us are on a journey from faith to sanctification. The third paragraph of Ignatius’s foundation is a description of life fully committed to the principles stated. Read it again meditating on its meaning in the context of your life. The most difficult language to accept is he he says, “it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things.” For me, the word “indifferent” is where my mind tries to block out what Ignatius is saying using every excuse I can work up.

The problem is that I want to stop reading at the word and insert my interpretation of what Ignatius means without allowing him to tell me what it means. The mental process is like the person who while listening to a sermon hear some small part they don’t like and shut down and not listen anymore.

In my next post, I will address this call for indifference. I will attempt to change the negative connotation of the word to a positive one. Then I will ask the questions I have been thinking about. Let me assure you, my questions may or may not have an answer.

 

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