I appeal to you therefor, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Romans 12: 1

When I consider the ideas of worship and sacrifice, the first thoughts that come to mind tend to be about various forms of Old Testament practices and are generally framed in the context of the temple in Jerusalem. So, they are a part of the rich history of faith that God has laid out for us in His word, but they are significantly disconnected from my world and from this day, and are generally outside of the realm of the experience of the church that I know. So, it is with a sort of eye-opening jolt, like cold-water thrown into my face, that I realize how wrong I am about the contemporary reality of what God actually desires from me and for His church.

In that ancient temple setting, there were no live sacrifices, unless you think in terms of the grain as still being alive before it was burned; yet, even it had been severed from its roots. In fact, the manner and the procedure by which the animals were put to death was an important aspect of the sacrificial system. Yet today, God wants the sacrifices to be alive; in fact, He wants them to be living so that the process of life is on-going and onward developing in light of the act of sacrifice, itself. This is an act of mercy and of grace on the part of the Lord. For He finds that His people, in Christ, are wholly and fully clean, pure and thus acceptable in His sight. If this were not so, then we would not be sacrifices that are suitable to be offered up to God. However, Christ makes us such people, and His declaration of our worthiness allows for us to go directly and personally before God as we offer up the service of our lives to Him.

This is the true heart of worship as we can know it today. Although the expression of our gathered worship can be beautiful and powerful in its sweet lyric and compelling exhortation of the word, any of these practices and all of this ceremony are secondary to the central point and purpose of that worship. God desires for us to each give up our lives in full to Him. He also wants His church as a corporate or a gathered entity to do the same thing. The Lord does not delight in ritual or in inwardly focused experiences; rather, His heart is set on seeing His people and His church drink deeply from the Word of Life and take the vitality that flows out of that source with us into the world where we live so that the truth of the Gospel of Christ would be proclaimed in words and in lived out faith in every corner of the universe. In Christ, there is no price that is too great to pay for the sake of the souls of others, and with Christ, each and every sacrifice that we make is an act of profoundly sweet worship given to God. 

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Nehemiah 8: 10

At certain times it is natural to feel contradictory emotions. This is one of those times for the people of Israel. As Nehemiah, Ezra, and the priests were going among them and reading God’s Word of the Law to them, they were struggling greatly. They had much to be thankful for in that the wall that surrounded Jerusalem had been rebuilt and their city was being restored to its former greatness. They had returned to their homeland from exile, and the throngs were gathered in order to celebrate all that God had done for them and to give thanks to the Lord. As God’s Word was read, they heard the story of how God had been faithful to His people throughout all of history. They were given the details of the Lord’s call to holiness and to righteous living, and they were also struck by the stark contrast between God’s faithfulness to them and their sinful departure from His way of truth and life.

It was surely painful for them to face into the reality of how they had acted in response to all that God had done for them. The very ground that they were standing upon was something that God had provided for them. The great work of rebuilding that had just been finished was necessary because they had not remained true to God’s way of living and had allowed the ruin of rebellion against God to overtake their world. The Word of Truth must have been convicting to them, and their hearts were overcome with the need for repentance. Yet, they were being called out into a joyous celebration, for this was a time for a festival of thanksgiving and singing of songs of praise to the Lord. So, Nehemiah calls upon the people to enter into the party. They were to do things that indicated that their hearts were at peace and that their minds were filled with expressions of thanksgiving for all that the Lord had done and hope for where they were headed as a nation and in each of their lives. They felt sorrow, regret, and a need for repentance, and the Lord accepted all of that and called them into a heart-deep attitude of resting upon His grace and understanding that the Lord finds great joy in the return of His people to Him.

Very similar things are true for us today as well. We neglect our walls of truth and holiness. We leave God’s righteous way in order to seek out our own path through life, and the results of all of this can be just as troubling and even similarly disastrous as departing from the Lord’s will and way was for the Israelites. Christ calls upon us to return to Him, and He leads us into doing His work of restoration and rebuilding in our own lives. With grace and mercy He takes us back into the center of God’s will for the life that He has gifted to each of us. And just as it did for the people gathered in Jerusalem with Nehemiah and Ezra, God’s Word presents us with the full scope of His unceasing faithfulness to His promises to us and depicts our need for repentance for each of us in such a stark and powerful manner that it is hard to be anything other than sorrowful in the light of this revealed truth. Yet, Christ tells us to enter into the celebration and to be joyful in the presence of the Lord. These times of returning and of rebuilding bring joy to God’s heart, and His joy is cause for us to join with the Lord and to accept His gift of redemption that comes complete with His provision of the strength that we will need to move forward with the work to which Christ is calling us to engage.      

O God, from my youth you have taught me,

   and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

Psalm 71: 17

Unfortunately, it is often true that after many years of sitting under the teaching of someone, the student loses respect for that teacher. This change in perspective is usually the result of our own human weakness. No matter how faithful to a cause, true to a philosophy, or committed to the pursuit of truth and reason, we all tend to drift away from dead center and each of us can find ourselves weakening into compromise or self-protective lies and deceptions. This is the way of the world, and all of us, teachers and mentors included, live in this same tragically broken environment. So, the longer we know someone and the more time spent in following that person’s guidance and instruction, the more likely it is that we will become acutely aware of their flaws, failings, and faults.

This was not a true condition for the writer of this Psalm. This person had a life-long relationship with God in which the author had taken instruction from the Lord, and even after decades of following that teaching, God was still amazing His audience and was continuing to provide the sort of guidance and wisdom that was life-giving and transformative in its content and its nature. This same observation is one that I can make, and it is also one that many others have set forth. There is no other teaching available to us in this world that compares to that which is provided by the Lord. His wisdom and truth come to us from God’s Word and it is provided to us in the form of spoken and written words that come out of the hearts and minds of people who have been gifted and guided by the Holy Spirit to provide the world with illumination and explanation of God’s Word. The Lord also speaks through direct communication with us and in the wise words that come from people within the body of faith.

There is no end or limit to the wisdom and truth that the Lord has available to us as we seek to navigate through life. He provides wide reaching and broadly applicable ethical and moral guidance for use in virtually every situation that we might encounter. The Lord also enters into the issues and concerns that come along with a remarkable capacity for understanding the intricacies of each of our lives. As we journey through life, we can look to many sources of knowledge, seek to sit under the teaching and instruction of numerous wise and gifted teachers, and engage with various other sources of insight and understanding, but in and through it all, there will be one final, true, and enduring teacher; that is, the Lord, God Himself, provides all wisdom, truth, and enduring council. We will sit under the teaching of people, but even then, we should check the ideas, direction, and guidance that they provide against the eternal truth that is contained in God’s Word and that is explained to each of Christ’s followers by the ever-present Spirit.   

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10: 31

This is one of the most inclusive statements in all of Scripture. Yet, it has a very narrow focus at its conclusion. Paul had lived out of a very ridged and fully articulated form of rules and regulations regarding what he could eat, how it was to be handled and prepared, and who he could take meals with. Now, in Christ, he had a form of freedom that he would have never experienced before. Still, he was a man who understood the importance of self-control, and he also understood that this self-discipline was a product of Paul’s submission to Christ and to following God’s will in everything. Thus, he comes to the broad and highly inclusive aspect of the statement in his letter to the church in Corinth when he tells them to “do all” to the glory of God.

This all is very big word, for it does not leave much out of its boundaries. There is no space for personal beliefs or for secret passions. This idea of living out each and every moment of life for the glory of God is not one that Paul invented, either. It is as old as is the existence of humanity, for fully engaged, all-in worship of the Lord a part of the way that we were created to exist. Thus, when we hold back parts of our lives or determine to live out aspects of it outside of God’s will and righteousness, we are actually setting a course for ourselves that is at odds with our deepest nature. People are most at peace in our souls when we are living in obedience to God’s Word and in harmony with His will. So, in order to do this with the totality of our beings, there is no area of life that we do not surrender to Christ and live out in the full instruction of the Word and the on-going council of the Spirit.

At the end of his thoughts, Paul takes us to the truly narrow and singular focus of what it means to “do all” in this context. God’s glory is made visible by the manner that His people live out our lives. When we pour out the presence of Christ into the world around us, we are reflecting that glory. This is seen in the form of sacrificial love that reaches out to others and seeks to uplift and care for them even when that means giving up something of importance to ourselves. It is also demonstrated when we are more concerned with justice and with mercy than we are with safety or gain. Christ’s presence is brought into the public square when we hold up righteousness as the standard for behavior and as the foundation for all forms of policy and practice in our society. There are many other situations and instances wherein we can choose to bring glory to God or to deny Him through our thoughts, words, and actions. Paul tells us to choose to do it all for God’s glory.     

He also told them a parable, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?”

Luke 6: 39

Although Jesus is talking about the very common human problem of judging others while remaining oblivious to one’s own sinful thoughts and actions, He is also speaking about a part of the way that God would have us change that way of life. You see, even Jesus needed to be under the influence and the guidance of a teacher. In His case, when He was living as a human on earth, He turned to the Father on many occasions for wisdom, guidance, strength, and encouragement. Jesus was Himself a man of prayer, and the numerous prayers that Scripture records are certainly nothing more than examples of the many others that were spoken or thought during the course of everyday life. In turn, Jesus taught His followers on any and all topics that related to living and to conducting those lives in a manner that was righteous, just, and that brought glory to God. In so teaching His followers, Jesus, in turn, instructed them by example and in words in how to teach others along the same lines as He did.

This process of sharing the truths contained in God’s Word with others has continued throughout time and is still present today. Additionally, Jesus’ pattern of going to God in prayer as a part of being instructed and informed about God’s will and the intricacies of His way of living remains critically important still. On our own, all of us are blind, and we also tend to function like the beggars in Jesus’ day did in that we are dependent upon others for all that we need to survive the day, and we are unable to access the bounty of wisdom and truth that God provides to us to feast upon during our journey through this world. Without instruction and guidance, we are left standing on a street corner crying out for bread when God’s grace has placed a banquet’s worth of provision a short distance from where we are standing in helpless distress. Additionally, if we are not trusting Christ to provide the proper words of instruction and guidance for us to share with others, we are not entering into the fullest aspects of growing more mature in our faith by reaching out to engage in the lives of others.

In order to stop living in the darkness of being blind, we need to be aware of our foolishness, lack of wisdom, and need for guidance and then repent of the sinful attitudes and self-oriented ideas that have caused this condition to continue. Christ will grant us grace and mercy for all that we have done that is contrary to God’s will, and His Spirit will work in our heart and minds to reshape and transform each of us into a person who can see clearly and who is also equipped to guide others into the light of the Lord’s truth. Sadly, the world where we live has more dark corners than it does places where the light of God’s glory prevails; yet, it does not need to remain like this. When people who know Christ choose to actively seek His wisdom as guidance for all that we think, say, and do, we bring God’s clarity into those obscured places, and as we turn toward others and offer them Christ’s grace and love while also leading them to the eternal wisdom of God’s Word, we help to amplify the brightness of that heavenly radiance in our corner of the world.   

“So shall My word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to Me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55: 11

God is known for His resolve. When He determines to do something, He just doesn’t stop going after it until it is done. Granted, the timing of reaching that finish line is also His to control, and that part of the entire process is often the one that seems the most mysterious and perplexing to me. For there are a lot of things that I am certain are the expressed desire of God’s heart that He just seems to take way too long to bring to completion, and either my attention span or my willingness to stick it out, or both, are tested beyond what I believe to be their limits of endurance.

However, that is really my problem; as these situations provide me with a chance to engage in a little spiritual and emotional workout session. The simple but sometimes hard to embrace truth is that I can trust that God really means what He says. So, if I am hearing His word and perceiving His desire, God will make those things happen, and regardless of my skill, intelligence, or patience with the process, He will cause a great result to come out of it all. What I am seeing here as the greater truth is that God’s true desire is not about the situation, itself. He did not send His word of truth specifically to heal the illness, to provide the job, or to free the oppressed. Rather, God gives us His Word to bring us to Him. The Lord’s desire is fulfilled when people learn to love and to trust Him with all of our hearts and with all of our minds and souls.

As we grow in our ability to trust God and to wait on His timing, His Word starts to open up to our hearts in ways that it had not before, and the deeper truths that the Lord wants us to hear and to understand start to reveal themselves to us. There is a process here that is of God and that is His to accomplish. For I have found that as I start to embrace the fact that God will respond to everything in my life that is reflective of His heart’s desire and wait in trusting obedience on Him while continuing to act on what He has revealed to me, God’s Word speaks ever more clearly and with a voice that is impossible to ignore. I can rest in and trust on the reality that the Lord will succeed in all things and over all opposition. 

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of God.

Matthew 18: 4

Children are very interesting. There is usually a simplicity to the way that they face into life wherein they can say what they think without a lot of filtering or needless rambling around the topic at hand. They tend to trust those who care for and about them in a way that allows them to engage with direction or even with discipline with relatively easy acceptance. These young people can laugh in a manner that fills a room with their joy, and they are also not afraid to cry when things hurt and they need someone to hold and to hug them until the hurt fades. They also try things and risk failure with a certain carelessness that turns the failure into learning. This image of what a child is like was a part of what Jesus seemed to have had in mind as He talked about the life of a person who wanted to truly know and to follow God.

Unfortunately, people tend to lose much of this easy exuberance, trust, and simple faith as we age and leave behind the dependence of childhood and take on the independence of our adult years. It seems that we start to think that we need to possess all of the answers and have our responses to life figured out. This sets us up for both the appearance of arrogance and also for a false sense of self-determination and control. There is a fine balance to be achieved in all of this, for God has designed us to be thinking beings who take on responsibility and grow in wisdom and the strength that we require to serve Him well in our world. However, He also desires to remain involved and engaged with us as we go about doing His will, for God does not want any of his children to be separated from the influence of His Spirit or the fellowship and encouragement of His body.

Maturity in Christ is thus very different from the model of that advanced stage in life as it is often portrayed in our world. It is freeing in that it grants us permission to need the input and the involvement of others in our thoughts and actions. It also provides us with the ability to walk through our days in the company of others who are all seeking to serve the same Master with like-minded goals on view. We are set free to laugh out of the deep joy of Christ in our hearts and to cry with an openness that responds to the hurt and the pain that is all around us in this broken place. Childhood reentered in Christ is a blessing to our souls as it also brings that special sparkle of innocence and easy submission into a world that is too full of life’s heavy burdens. As adult children of the Father we are sent out on the great journey of service to God’s Kingdom while we are also held close in loving care and life-giving counsel and support.  

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

1 Peter 4: 12

The idea of a fiery trial does not seem pleasant in any sense. At least in my experience, being burned is very painful, and so, the thought of enduring some form of testing that comes by virtue of an activity that has the sort of intensity that fire provides sounds like something that I would prefer to skip over or avoid by almost any means that I can summon up to do so. I am aware that, except for a relatively few examples, Peter is using a metaphor here; he does not expect that he or other followers of Christ would actually be burned. What he is telling us is that there is an almost absolute certainty that we will encounter forms of opposition that are intense and that may very well harm our bodies as well as our hearts and minds. The surroundings where we live and into which Christ sends His people to serve Him are not friendly to people who bring with us the truth of the Gospel of Christ and the light of His unrelenting Word of Life.

In fact, it would be my guess that Peter might have asserted that if we are not running into some very real push back and antagonism as we go about living as people who think, speak, and act out Christ’s calling for us, then, we are not truly and fully doing that. There is no place on this earth where Christ is needed and where He is readily and completely accepted. So, those same places where the need is great and the acceptance is questionable are locations where the inhabitants are going to fight back against the presence of Christ in their midst. Satan demands denial of Christ from his people, and this denial leads to push back against the Gospel. Push back when resisted or countered by Christ’s followers can bring about more open forms of rejection that do, at times, lead to aggressive and even to violent responses. People do lose their lives over sharing the message of redemption that is found only in Jesus Christ.

Now, most of us do not face this sort of physical risk that comes to us because we are committed to proclaiming Christ in the world where we live. Still, there are risks involved in doing this. We will encounter people who do not want to hear about our faith and who will shut us down or cut us off from fellowship with them if we persist in doing this. There are places in our world where the rules attempt to bind us so that Christ is not permitted to be spoken there. These places may be connected to our employment or they might be associated with some other important aspect of daily life. In all of these situations and relationships there are ways to remain true to Christ’s calling while honoring the people and society’s rules. We must never renounce Christ or minimize His place of prominence in our own lives, but we can seek to demonstrate love, care, and compassion as Christ-like qualities that open doors to discussion of the reason for the loving care that we exhibit. We can still pray for and with others even in settings where the rules minimize our ability to do so before a gathered crowd. We can and should continue to share the truth of God’s Word as the source of our wisdom in all situations. Finally, we can be people of prayer who bring love and Christ’s acceptance to the lives of everyone that we encounter. The flames of trials may not be literal and they probably will not consume our flesh with their heat, but the opposition that we will encounter for the sake of the Gospel of Christ will be heated and delivered with the fury of Hell. Yet, Christ is with us, and He will strengthen each of us to withstand all that might come our way. 

Where there is no guidance, a people falls,

   but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 11: 14

Most of us were taught to be strong and to stand on our own in most aspects of life. This independence and individualism are considered to be virtues in us, and these same qualities are given even greater importance as character traits for those who would seek to ascend to positions of leadership. We are to evaluate the data, form conclusions that are reasoned out of that information, and formulate a plan of action. Then, with this plan in hand and a goal in view, we set everything in motion and press on to accomplishing that end result. We are driven by a form of competitive zeal onward to victory. This personal win or lose mentality is frequently the underlying energy in campaigns of all sorts whether grand and great or minimal and insignificant. The old joke about men not asking directions applies in far more significant ways when it comes to the manner that people in various positions of leadership are often expected to make important decisions and to take conclusive actions without seeking and listening to outside counsel.

Needless to say, this is rather different than the way that God would have us function. He provides us with a wealth of sound and wise guidance, advice, and moral direction to rely upon in making all manner of decisions. Even more significantly than looking to God’s viewpoint on issues and considering His direction in situations is the concept of deep and fundamental transformation that is inherent in the way that Christ works within His people. He enters into us and proceeds to work in a manner that transforms each of us from our sin-led and death-bound existences into people who are free from that bondage to sin and are growing ever more alive as we walk with Christ through the days of our lives. The very idea of submission to Christ should lead us into seeking His perspective and guidance in all matters in life. The Lord’s wisdom is foundational to the design and the construction of the world where we dwell, and it is superior to any other thought or consideration when it comes to living in a just, righteous, and holy manner.

So, back to leaders and to our expectations for them and for ourselves, also. If we are willing to subordinate our thoughts, concepts, ideas, and plans to the counsel that God provides for us by and through the many counselors and forms of granting wisdom and guidance that He provides to us, then we should also require this of the people in whom we entrust the leadership of organizations, entities, and governmental institutions that we live within. At the very least, they should be seeking out the counsel and advice of many wise and diverse people who are themselves doing the same sort of guidance seeking from their own array of people of considered wisdom. Living as a wise person starts with dwelling at the foot of the cross of Christ where all of my intellect, training, and experience are insignificant in relation to the truth of the Gospel of Christ. It is from that humble point of view that my eyes are most open and my vista the least obstructed by human frailty and sinful pride. It is by and through Christ, in the counsel of God’s Word, and with the instruction of the Spirit that we all thrive individually and as organizations and even as nations.   

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

   and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

   giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

   it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

   and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55: 10, 11

This is a science lesson, and in it, God is sharing one of the basic aspects of the nature of the world that He created. The water that comes out of the sky has a purpose, and God was intentional when He set up the system whereby it develops in the sky and then falls to earth. In other words, this moisture has a purpose that is designed for it to fulfill when it drops out of the clouds and is pulled by gravity to earth’s surface. The moisture that was generated far above comes to settle in the ground and is used by various seeds to cause them to sprout, develop, and grow into plants that are useful in numerous ways. It also gives life sustaining fluid to all of the wide array of animals that reside on and in the earth. Water in its various forms is useful, valuable, and even vital to all life that exists in the world. It helps to feed and to sustain us in many ways, and no life exists without its presence, and none of us thrive if we do not take it in regularly and deeply.

But God’s science lesson is not really about the natural world so much as it is a discussion of the nature of the world. Yes, we are fed and sustained by the water, plants, and animals that God has given to us to use as food, but even more importantly than that, our deeper natures, our souls, are nourished by God’s Word. He has provided His word of life to give us the foundational understanding that we need to live as righteous and just people. The Lord also feeds us a regular diet of the wisdom that we require to digest this understanding so that it is useful in making the decisions that we need to make every day. God’s Word in all of its forms and expressions contains the nutrients that our hearts, minds, and spirits require in order to do more than just exist. Through His word of life, the Lord gives us strength, encouragement, and vision to utilize as we navigate our way through the days ahead. This same word shows us the long history of God’s faithful presence with His people throughout all of time so that we can both gain confidence to follow His path and also learn from the successes and the failings of our predecessors. 

God provides us with water, and we can choose to drink it in or not, but the result of refusing it is that we will shrivel up and ultimately die. God also pours out His Word for us to consume; although, our bodies will not perish if we do not drink it in, we will not thrive in that condition of self-imposed spiritual drought. Frankly, it is foolish to fail to consume at least a basic portion of what the Lord is providing for us to drink in. He makes it very easy to access and He continually refreshes the supply. God’s Word, whether written, spoken, or revealed to us through the work of the Spirit, surrounds us as if it were the air we breathe. God instructs and trains us through it, and He increases our depth of understanding of it as we discuss it with each other and with Him; so, prayer is also a form of study and contemplation of God’s Word. God gives us His Word so that we can grow closer to Him and in order for us to know His will and follow His righteous way. Consuming it brings us into the presence of the Lord in ways that make us strong in spirit and wise in the ways of the Lord.