New Language: Priests, Sacrifices, and Covenants

1271462_95663567On Sunday I want to talk a little bit about something that seems kind of not relevant to our lives but really is. I want to talk about priests, sacrifices, covenants, and bloodlines.

In all honesty, many times when we come across these themes in the Bible we see them as out-of-date, old fashioned, sometimes maybe barbaric even. But the truth is when we peel back some of the language, context, and understanding they can become beautiful and freeing.

Because even though today we don’t offer animal sacrifices that were offered in the Hebrew Bible, we still are caught up in some of the same cycles. We struggle with cycles of sin and seeking atonement or forgiveness. We might not use sacrifices of animals to find peace or atonement but we do use other sacrifices: prayer, confession, trying harder, making promises, and all sorts of things. But often these sacrifices still leave us locked in a cycle we can’t break out of: fail and sin, feel shame, guilt, confess and sacrifice somehow, and repeat.

We might not regularly sacrifice animals to find forgiveness but it is something we need. We need a new way to live, not stuck in cycles of sin, self-righteousness, or shame. And that’s what we are looking at on Sunday. And it won’t come as a surprise how we find that freedom and forgiveness: it’s in Jesus.

So that’s where we’re headed but before we get there, why not do a bit of reading and prepping on your own. Read Hebrews 8, 9, and 10: that’s where we will be really focusing on Sunday. And then why not spend some time thinking if there are any cycles you need freedom from. Is there a sense of guilt that lingers, a sin that keeps creeping in, or a hurt that lasts? And if so, come Sunday we are going to find how Jesus changes all of that.

Contract Christianity

251732_4297I want to try to briefly discuss something that affects and infects our following of Jesus, especially in North America. It’s something I call “Contract Christianity”. This is where following Jesus is reduced really to a contract: we pray a prayer, and Jesus gets us into heaven.

And I think all of us know that praying a prayer to Jesus, just to go to heaven misses the heart of what following Jesus is about. It’s a truncated gospel. But what we sometimes miss is how this still infects our Christianity. We see following Jesus then in terms of a contract of what we do for him, and then what he does for us. We also then focus on what “breaks” the contract like the fine print in a legal contract. And this leads to all sorts of questions and comments that are in the wrong direction. Ones I get all the time in different ways about sin, church, and faith vs. works. Ones like this:

  • At what point will someone lose their salvation? How much can I sin and God still forgive me? I’ll still get to heaven if I don’t tithe right, or do everything?
  • It doesn’t matter if I go to church or not right? I can follow Jesus on my own, it’s a personal relationship right? Why can’t I just pray to Jesus and let that be that?
  • I prayed the prayer, isn’t that enough? why do I need to love others? Isn’t  it enough that I come to church, why do I need to change these actions?

But following Jesus is not a contract, it’s a covenant. So yes, it is not less than a contract, but a covenant is so much more than a contract. It’s a commitment for a lifetime based in relationship, not contractually binding arguments.

And if we ask the same type of questions above, in terms of a covenant relationship they quickly don’t make any sense. So let’s put those above questions in terms of the only covenant we have left really, marriage. And just see how much they miss the point.

Here are the same questions put in terms of a marriage.

  • How far can I go with another person, before it’s called cheating? Where is the line exactly? What can I do before you divorce me?
  • Why do I have to spend time with my spouse and family? We live together isn’t that enough?
  • I promised to love you and marry you, isn’t that enough? What do my actions have to do with it?

When these questions are put in the context of covenant they don’t make any sense. No one truly commits to a marriage thinking about how much they can get away with, or not wanting to spend time together, or not showing their love. But for some reason we do this with Jesus. We ask questions about what we can get away with while still following Jesus (sin questions). We ask questions about why we need to commit to Jesus’ family and gathering together (church questions). We ask questions about whether our faith really needs to change our actions or whether we are still “saved”.

This is all contract Christianity, not covenant Christianity. Because as soon as you start thinking about following Jesus in terms of a covenant none of those questions make any sense. If you are committing to follow Jesus for the rest of your life, you’re not interested in what you can get away with (sin). If you are covenanting with Jesus, spending time with him and his family (church) makes absolute sense. If you are being a disciple of his, having faith in him naturally flows out with showing it. (action / works)

So all that to say is that I think we need to regain the sense of following Jesus as a covenant and not just as a contract. We follow Jesus with our whole lives, not just what happens after our lives have ended. The point is that following Jesus is to change how we live now, which will last into eternity. And I think if there is one thing in Christianity we need to regain, it’s a sense of covenant because it matters and it’s beautiful.

Planting Life

On Sunday we looked at how people like Jesus but don’t really like the church. We looked at how our posture (way of relating, interacting, and responding) to the world needs to be the same as Jesus’.

We first looked at how our posture isn’t called to be one of judgment. Jesus is clear he came to seek and save the lost, not condemn the world (John 3:16-17). So a posture of judgment isn’t to be a primary posture towards those around us. We also looked at the posture of separation, where we remove ourselves from the world. And while we are certainly called to live lives of difference, we are not called to live lives of isolation. We are called to engage the world, and to be sent into the world. And lastly, we looked at a posture of accommodation, where we no longer seem to have any distinctives at all.

We discussed how all of these postures don’t seem to the one that Jesus had. That we are not called to judge, ignore, or simply accept the world around us. We are actually called to bless the world. We went back to Genesis 12 and discovered that the first covenant with God and his people is to be a blessing. Our posture, stance, and response to those around us must be blessing. This is our calling,

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s Christians should be known for how we bless others. This is what I hope our church is known for. Not what we stand against, for our separation, or accommodation but for our continuous acts of blessing.

We ended by explaining what blessing means. How, in Hebrew, it literally means to give life. I think this is an easier thing for us to practically understand and practice. We, as Christians, are to give life to those around us in simple, and real ways. This means shoveling driveways, inviting people over, and caring for others in simple and intentional ways. Christians should be people whom others want to be around because of how life-giving we are.

So that was our call and challenge this week: to go give life to those around us. And I think if we get this posture right, we might just also change people’s perceptions of the church as we adopt the posture of Jesus Christ.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea Our posture is to be life Giving

Take Aways…

  • If people are drawn to Jesus, they should be drawn to the church
  • Posture actually conveys more than our words ever do
  • A posture of judgment rarely communicates the heart of Christianity
  • We are called to be different to live lives of difference
  • God is going to use a people, not a program to change the world
  • We will not change the world through our judgment, through our separation, or through or simple accommodation we will change it through our blessing.
  • Barak (Blessing) : means to give life
  • We make our friends; we makes our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor. G.K. Chesterton
  • Our posture is to be life giving.
  • What can I do that would be life-giving for those around me.

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

How has someone blessing you changed you? What is your posture to those who are around you? Would you say its one of judgment, separation, accommodation, or blessing? How come? How can you give life to those around you? What about you neighbor, co-worker, or friends?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take a moment to talk to your kids about how we are to be blessing. Tell them we are to help others feel happy and full of joy, and life. Ask them if they have any ideas how they can do that for their friends. Then go about and do it!

Challenge for this Week: Be a blessing to those around you

A Different Kind of Love

I heard a song today called “Beautiful War” by Kings of Leon. I really liked the song, and there was one line that really resonated with me. It’s this, “Love don’t mean nothing / Less there is something worth fighting for”.

The reason I really like this line is because so often love in our day and age seems like something sappy, and wishy washy. It seems like something fluid, and sometimes even passing. When I think of love though, yes there is emotion and passion to it, but there is also something solid. There is something deep. There is something more than just feelings, there is conviction and commitment.

And I think that’s why I really liked that line in that song, that love doesn’t mean a lot unless. It’s committed to something worth fighting for. This for me means that love is a commitment to fight for something, or someone. Love isn’t something or someone that you can easily give up on, or it’s really not love.

And when I think about love in this way, it makes me think of God. God gave up his place above us, to come to save us. He thought we were worth fighting for. He thought we were worth dying for. Sure there is emotion there, but it’s not a wishy washy love. It’s a committed, sacrificial, conviction that causes action.

So I guess that’s all to simply say that love for me runs deeper than just feelings. Of course true love comes with emotion, and passion but also one with a commitment to “something worth fighting for”. And I think this is the type of love that lasts, because it preserves, pushes forward, and refuses to give up (1 Cor. 13:7-8). This is the type of love that God shows to us, and that I think we need to seek to show others.1422732_38534421

The Depth of Love: Family, Faithfulness, and Hesed

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about love. And not so much the gooey, lovey-dovey feeling of love. Instead I’ve been thinking about love in the faithful, committed, covenanted, never give up, type of love.

In our church family there have been new babies born recently and each group of parents talk about how quickly they love their new little ones. Not just a “feeling” but also a firm resolve to protect them, care for them, be with them, guide them, and walk alongside them. I know that feeling from when Hudson was born, and I look forward to that experience again with our new baby due any day.

The amazing thing is that this idea of love as, deep loyalty, unending commitment, patient endurance, faithfulness, is what is found in the Bible. The idea of love in the Bible isn’t just a feeling but a commitment and a covenant – that never ends.

In the Old Testament when the Bible often uses the word “loving-kindness, mercy, steadfast love.” The word is “hesed” in Hebrew. It speaks of God’s commitment to his promises, to his people, and his plans because of his deep love, commitment and fidelity.

The idea is simple: love isn’t simply a feeling or a contract. Love, or Hesed, is a covenant promise that cannot be broken. This is why when the Bible speaks of God as love (1 John 4) the point isn’t just that God has loving-feelings towards us. No, it is so much more than that. God being love means that he is defined by a passionate commitment, unfailing fidelity, a covenant of mercy, and a faithful promise to keep choosing to love you each and every day. This gets to the heart of God, and the scandal of God’s love. God’s love goes beyond just feelings and moves into action and deep commitment. So when we speak of God’s unconditional love for us, it isn’t just never-ending, good feelings about his people. God’s unconditional love means that his posture to us is one of faithful grace, active commitment, purposeful mercy, and consistent care because that is his promise to us.

In 1 John 4:8b – 9 we read, “God is love. God showed us how much he loved us by sending his only Son into the world so that we might have true life through him. This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to rescue us from our brokenness”

This is love. Love that is about action. Love that is about commitment. Love that is about sacrifice, fidelity, and a decision to reach out and give while we don’t deserve it. And this is what makes God so beautiful.

And this is also what makes me excited, because soon I will have a new son or daughter. That deep connection and desire to be committed to them for life I now know isn’t a biological evolution thing, it isn’t a psychological phenomenon thing, it isn’t even a socially prescribed thing. That deep desire for life-long love and commitment is a God thing. It starts with God, comes from God, is modeled by God, and is given by God.

And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing….