So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5: 23, 24

The various forms of offerings that we give to God are a sign of our trust of Him and of our love for Him. They are an important part of the way that followers of Christ live in that we are surrendering the sure thing of wealth or assets that we have in hand today for the prospect that God will grant to us all that we will need to sustain us tomorrow. Yet, Jesus is saying that there are things that come along in the course of living out our days that are more significant than the way that we express our love, trust, and honor to God through our acts of sacrificial giving. Jesus tells us that the relationships that we have with people are of even greater significance to Him than is the way that we engage in acts of trust through giving in our worship of the Lord.

In fact, I believe that God would see the act of working toward peace and understanding with other people as being one of the most important forms of worship in which we can engage. Christ should make a difference in the way that we deal with other people, and His presence in us should grant to each of His people the grace, mercy, and confidence to engage in acts of reconciliation with diminished regard for the relational or emotional risk that might seem to be connected to those acts of sacrificial engagement with a person with whom we are in a state of disagreement or dispute. I understand that there is risk involved in stepping across the barriers that we construct to keep ourselves separated and insulated from people when we are at odds with them; yet, Christ stepped over the divide between God and humanity to live among and to dwell with us in order to do the greatest of all acts of reconciliation.

Therefore, as we follow Christ, we too should step over the walls of animosity that are put up in our relationships in order to engage in doing the great work of bringing people back into relationship with ourselves and into fellowship with the Lord. This directive to be reconciled sounds simple on the surface, but we all know that it is anything but easy to do. Life is challenging and issues between people are frequently complex; still, in Christ, we have the Spirit to guide our steps and to provide the words of healing to our speech. We also have time to give to the endeavor, for according to Jesus, this sort of effort is of greater significance and has a higher priority than any other thing that we might feel the need to accomplish. Christ desires for us to get our human relationships in order as an act of deep worship to God, and He is with us for every step of whatever process is required for the completion of these acts of holy reconciliation.  

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Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.

Psalm 50: 14

No matter what we do or how much effort we put out in attempting to serve God, it is all of little importance if our hearts are not thankful. We can be continually engaged in doing good works and in churchy-type activities and still be doing it all in order to feel good or to appear righteous to other people. It is the internal attitude that matters most, and that attitude is formed out of an understanding of why we need to be thankful to God.

There is something about the act of thanking God that is beneficial. As we express our dependence and blessedness by thanking the Lord for who He is, for what He does, and for His amazing love, our hearts and minds become oriented to hearing and doing God’s will. Thanksgiving leads to freedom from my preconceived notions of what I should be engaged in and opens my mind to grasp the idea of embracing the things that will truly bring glory to God. Expressing my thanks to God places Him in the center of my focus and takes me out of that position, and that change in orientation leads to the sort of empowerment that sets true service into motion.

My prayer for this day is that my heart will stay in a continuous attitude of thankfulness to my Lord, that my mind will not drift away from that focus, and that everything that I do throughout this day will be engaged in from a desire to bring glory to God. A thankful heart is at peace in even the most turbulent of times. Expressing thankful words brings out the joy that sorrow has concealed. Thanksgiving soothes the pain of grief and loss. Thoughts of thanks and praise lead us out of the world and into the throne room of God. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, my Lord and King. Thank you. 

For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,

and declares to man what is his thought,

who makes the morning darkness,

and treads on the heights of the earth—

the LORD, the God of hosts is his name!

Amos 4: 13

 

The Israel of Amos’ day was not in a good place, and neither was the world around them. Yet, this was a time when things looked great in Israel, for the nation was wealthy and its economy was growing rapidly. It was enjoying a time of relative calm and peace, and Assyria to the north was dealing with its own internal issues and was no longer threatening Israel and Judah. Yet, this prosperity and peace were gained by the few who were powerful at the expense of many who were being oppressed. Their worship was only nominally focused upon the one true God as they sought to find favor from any form of deity that seems good or helpful in the moment. The Israelites were certainly glad and thankful for the help when an enemy was defeated or was being held in check by various forces and causes that did not require the expenditure of Israel’s wealth or other resources, but they were mostly reliant upon themselves and in their leader’s wisdom and guile for this worldly success.

 

At this time, God sent a prophet to speak about the situation in their land and the one in the world around them, too. He speaks of God’s anger and distress at the way that people are living, and Amos focusses on the unjust and oppressive tactics that have been utilized in order to gain power, wealth, and position. This is true for the nations around Israel, and it is sadly true for God’s own people as well. Although God allows us to make our own choices regarding the way that we will live and for the direction that our nations will go, He will not let us continue in an ungodly direction indefinitely. He has the power and the universal authority that it takes to change things when the time is right from His point of view to do so. This reality is what Amos is reminding us of in this verse. This God who we are ignoring and trivializing by the way that we are living is the same God who formed the ground that we stand upon and who shaped the mountains where we go to worship.

 

Even more impressively, the Lord has formed and shaped us into beings that can think and act upon those thoughts. Our capacity to build up and to create the world that gives us our wealth and comfort is something that God, Himself, has gifted to us. However, His intent in so devising people was that we would care for this world in a loving and a just manner and that we would worship Him with the totality of our beings. Just care for our world and for all the life that is upon it is the objective of our God-given mission on the earth. Worship of God is the means by which we stay true to that calling and is to be the central focus of all that we do in the course of life. When we stop orienting the totality of our love, adoration, and praise toward God, we start to lose our ability to truly love and care for others as Christ desires for us to do. As we turn away from worshiping God with all that we are, we tend to start worshiping ourselves and the possessions that we desire and enjoy, and this state of heart and mind leads us into thinking and acting in a manner that is much like the Israelites in Amos’ days were doing. As the prophet reminded them and tells us, God is not pleased by this behavior, and He will not wait forever before He makes things right in the world.

 

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.

1 John 5: 4

 

When faced with some form of obstacle, challenge, or difficult situation most of us take it on by relying upon our knowledge and our strength. After all, that is why we have put in the hours and years of hard work that developed those skills. Whether we are wired to enjoy, to tolerate, or to detest these times of conflict, people tend to respond to all that comes our way in much the same manner. Yet, none of this wins a true victory. Everything that we do on our own will fall short, and far too often the price of these victories is devastating on ourselves and on others.

 

Certainty of winning is found only in following the Supreme Victor, Jesus Christ. Although Christ has shared with us images of the great struggles, battles, and wars that are coming during these times of His final returning, all of this turmoil is nothing more than the mopping-up action that comes after the Lord has already claimed His victory over Satan and the world. So, as we are in Christ, we too are literally victors. Yet, we are not just invited to join in the celebration or added on to the tail end of a victory parade. What happens to us is much greater than any of that, for the fight is still going on and the conflict is fierce. Although we can rejoice in the reality of Christ in our lives and worship our God with all of our being, we are simultaneously engaged in battle. It is here, on the battlefield, that Christ makes the greatest difference in our lives.

 

Christ’s presence changes the essential character of the way that we engage with our enemy. In Him we gain the capacity to see the true nature of the attack, and we are prepared to counter its force and fury with tools and weapons that are effective. Although we may perceive that we are faced off against flesh and blood opponents, we are, in fact, engaged in a conflict that exists in the realm of the mystical. The forces that are aligned in opposition to us are quite visible to God, but they are thoroughly concealed from our view. We must rely upon God to reveal them, their true intent, and His plan for engaging with them. In order to do this one primary thing is required of us, we must have faith. The strength that will sustain us and the wisdom that we will require to stay true to God’s calling will be provided by Christ as we stay faithful to His Word, His Spirit’s leading, and the fellowship of His Body.