Time is precious, don't waste it.
One year ago, I posted the words in the blog post below to my Facebook page. My father was suffering the final effects of multiple strokes, and he would only linger on this earth for about 5 weeks from this posting. This morning (03.16.2023), less than 1 year later, I took my precious mother to her first chemotherapy treatment. Her prognosis is encouraging, but it's cancer, and it weighs heavily on the mind.
Never underestimate life, because it can be menacing. When trouble comes, it can overwhelm you with a force that can stagger even the greatest of faith. It's so important to never lose sight of God's sovereignty over every situation, even the situations that stab violently at our heart. And, it's important to never lose sight of God's love. God loved my father, and He took him home. God loves my mother, and He's allowing her a new journey that promises some great difficulty along the way. However, there's opportunity in that journey to find new ways of trusting a God who knows the path that we must walk in order to enter into the beauty and perfection of His will.
While we walk through our journey, whether the road is flat or steep, whether the situation is joyous or heartbreaking, understand that the time we have with those dear to our heart is precious. God has allowed every moment for specific purposes, and we should embrace every moment with a passion. Once those moments pass, they cannot be retrieved.
Time is precious, my friends. Don't waste it.
My Facebook post from 03.16.2022...
Anne L. de Stael once said that, "We understand death only after it has placed its hand on someone we love."
I think that's true.
My father continues to do fairly well, and he has made some cognitive improvements over the past couple of days. The journey continues to be almost overwhelmingly hard at times, but my parents built our family on a very solid foundation of faith and trust in God. My father's great efforts at the aforementioned are culminating now in my own life, and everything that he has ever taught me about having a faithful trusting of God's plan is bearing fruit. As God continues to gently guide my father home, He is also proving, time and time again, that our hope and trust in Him is not misplaced. God is also showing me more and more about the great worth of my relationship with my earthly father, the wisdom in his words, the lessons of his actions and the priceless gift to our family that he continues to be—if only for a little while longer.
In over 20+ years of ministry, singing or playing at 100+ funerals, losing friends and family—through all of that, I don't think I've ever fully understood death. I don’t claim to completely understand it now, but I have a much deeper and more grounded understanding of it today, as God has brought it to our very doorstep. It's an unwanted visitor, but death will eventually demand entry into all of our lives. It's painful; it's horrific, and the process of watching a loved one die seems to drain every ounce of strength and emotion from your soul. It leaves you totally exposed, and, often, it will make you feel inconsolable. Watching death, when it finally arrives, requires an abundance of things you may find scarcely provisioned in your life. Be ready, although I find it hard to believe you can really be prepared. It’s harder than you might imagine.
No sermon prepares you for dealing with the death of a loved one, because no pastor has that kind of gifting. God's Word speaks of death and comfort, but simply reading Scripture alone will not bring peace. To understand death, and have a peace regarding the same, one must simply wade into it, much like you tolerate walking into a cold ocean, holding tightly to the hand of Jesus, as He guides you through a process that you don’t desire, don’t understand and one that causes for you a tremendous amount of grief and pain. It's a pain that can't be "preached" or "read" out of you; it's a pain that must be experienced to be understood. Moreover, we will most likely never understand the journey, and the pain will never fully depart our consciousness. Any words to the contrary are simple foolishness. But then there’s God…
As hard as this is proving to be, God continually shows up…
God shows up in short conversations with my father, conversations composed of very few words but literally drenched in an abundance of love. He shows up in a brief smile from my dad, as we reminisce about times gone by. He shows up where no words are spoken at all, and there is only the force applied by the clinching of his aged hand in mine. He shows up when that same aged hand refuses to let go of mine. He shows up as I listen intently to my father’s breathing in times of peaceful sleep. God shows up when my mother prays. He shows up when my wife prays. God is there, in the ever-abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, who comforts those who were previously inconsolable.
John 14:26 says, “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.”
This verse reminds me that God, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit in my father’s own life, used my earthly father to teach me about faithfully trusting the God he loved. My dad prepared me for this very journey throughout his entire life, by pouring his own faith into me and living out that very example. And here, today, God, though the Holy Spirit, reminds me of His promises through the spoken words of my dad in years gone by. It’s as if the Spirit of God sits beside me whispering peace into my mind daily, reminding me of my earthly father’s words—reminding me that those are the very words and the very promises of God. The Holy Spirit does this, and it’s beautiful.
An understanding of the death of a loved one cannot be taught. It can only be understood when Jesus, through the comforting of the Holy Spirit, stands beside you guiding you through it. I will tell you, it can be messy. Thankfully, God understands messy; He understands our grief and sorrow; He understands every pain; He allows grace for sleepless nights on a couch; He provides for us when mental exhaustion takes more than its fair share, and He is always beside us, through the presence of a Holy Spirit who never tires of holding the hand of a grieving son who, in many ways, already misses his dad.
Circumstances Vetted By God
Pastor, evangelist and author, Alan Redpath, once said,
“There is no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me
until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me.
If it has come that far, it has come with great purpose.”
You know, life can deal us out a lot. More often than not the available space on our plate is already at a very sparse minimum, and we are already convinced of our inability to coordinate even one more small task. And then God allows more, and the allowance isn’t always tolerably small.
The little phrase “but God…” is often used in the context of God sweeping in with abundant grace, mercy and provision to “fix” a bad situation. However, it may be less utilized in a sentence like this: “My plate was already full, my emotions were already tattered, my faith was already shaken, and I could not bear another load--but God unexpectedly added ______________.”
It’s important to know that a loving God will absolutely test our tolerances. We like for God to rush in mightily with the supernatural help and resources needed to bring resolution and peace to formidable situations in our life, but we like it much less when God sweeps in and heaps unexpected challenges and difficulties into a life and schedule that may be, by our own evaluation, already pressed to the limit.
As of late, my own plate has been pretty full. My father passed away in April of 2022. Shortly after that, my wife and I packed up our house, sold it and moved. Then, almost immediately, God moved me to a new church. All the while, I’ve been battling with a very painful pinched nerve which has brought a halt to many things in life that I enjoy. It's been a tight schedule of P.T., chiropractor visits and now I have a second MRI scheduled this week—one that I pray will lead directly to the corrective surgery needed in this situation. Between my own doctor appointments, we now add that my precious mother is awaiting some test results. We’ve been busy, but it’s not as much physical busyness as it is mental busyness, and for me, constant nerve pain. It’s been draining. It continues to be draining, but God continues to be good.
Recently, I’ve found that Scripture brings a much greater worth of comfort to me than it has in past years. I believe there are two reason behind that fact. The first is that I’m hopefully growing in my walk with Christ. The second is that I’m older, and God has had more years to “put me through some stuff.” How comforting it is to know that all of that “stuff” has been vetted by God Himself. The minute details of every difficulty has been thoroughly examined, weighed and measured by a God who has then allowed into my life for purpose.
Let’s quickly look to Scripture…
Psalm 119:71-72 says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”
Eugene Peterson translates this wonderfully in the Message.” He says, “My troubles turned out all for my best. They forced me to learn from Your textbook. Truth from Your mouth means more to me than striking it rich in a gold mine.”
There’s a richness in the lessons of “affliction” and difficulty that money (or a gold mine) can not purchase. Understanding the fact that God uses everything in our life to focus us on Him, we should be encouraged when difficulty comes to fill our plates. That's a tough feeling to embrace when walls begin to close in around you, but when that happens, we should immediately begin looking for God's purpose. God always has a purpose, and in that purpose, we always have an opportunity.
Pastor Rick Warren once wrote something like this: "Life is series of problem-solving opportunities which will either develop you or defeat you, depending on your response to them." He then went on to list 5 ways that God wants to use difficulties in your life.
From my best memory they are as follows:
God wants to use problems to DIRECT you, INSPECT you, CORRECT you, PROTECT you and PERFECT you. I’m sure you can search online to find his resources, but the information that I have recalled brings some positive light to situations that may often seem just a little too much at the moment.
Isn’t it good to know that God has already looked through every situation that He allows to transpire in our life? The journey that those difficulties must take as they travel through God’s meticulous vetting and then on to us, being strategically implanted into our life at just the correct moment, should clarify that they hold a place of great importance in God’s ultimate plan. Difficulties are opportunities to find God and learn from Him.
Friends, be encouraged that God has good plans for you, and I pray that you understand the sovereign authority that God wields in allowing the difficulties that interrupt our schedule and possibly even steal our peace. Nothing enters our life without sovereign permission. Don’t neglect to find the beauty of God’s goodness, often coming to us initially disguised as struggle. That struggle has made a great and long journey, and it arrives with even greater purpose.
Insecurity is painful, and insecurity can damage almost everything it touches. Unfortunately, it can be a common issue challenging many who walk among us, and thereby, it becomes an issue for those who don’t battle the personality trait themselves but must interact with those who do. However, let’s be sure to understand that we all most likely suffer from some form of insecurity, so don’t develop any high and mighty feelings of superiority over someone who is struggling.
Insecurity in others has touched my life and the life of my family in more ways than I’m comfortable with in recent years. In some cases, I addressed it directly, and in other cases I didn’t address it at all, although I probably should have. However, some battle are just not worth fighting. For the sake of sanity, it’s often best to walk away. And, I did. But, those years have caused me to do some research on the subject of insecurity and the toxic traits that can often pour forth from the life and actions of an insecure person.
Insecurity is characterized by feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and a diminished view of their self-worth, although everyone suffering from insecurity doesn’t display those feelings in ways that we might think. Read on.
Jennifer Guttman, Psy. D., says:
“...it’s estimated that roughly 85% of people worldwide (adults and adolescents)
have low self-esteem. Low self-esteem has been linked to violent behavior,
school dropout rates, teenage pregnancy, suicide, and low academic achievement.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more deaths are caused by suicide
every year than homicide or war.”
(Jennifer Guttman, Psy. D, “The Relationship With Yourself,” Psychology Today, June 27, 2019)
Insecurity drives damaging and even dangerous behavior. Common personality traits of insecure people can be negative self-talk or self-depreciation, but insecurity can also manifest itself outwardly and into the lives of others. It can reveal itself in jealousy, approval-seeking behaviors, bragging, flamboyant narcissism, competitiveness, obnoxious bullying, a negative mindset toward seemingly everything they encounter that is “not their idea” and outright aggression towards others. Insecurity can often bring about unnecessary drama and toxicity into the lives of those who must engage with those suffering from this increasingly damaging personality trait.
But, how do we deal with this? Should we deal with this?
First off, we must call it out for what it really is—a problem, and in most situations, I would say that we should confront it. The confrontation is hard, because it will most likely not be well received, and discussing it in a way that promotes peace, love and understanding can be difficult.
I’m not an expert at anything here, but my own research in both Christian-based and mainstream psychological studies has led me to the following conclusions:
We Must Hear Them Out
Let the insecure among us talk, regardless of the conversation; give them space to breathe; and let them air their narrative. Dismissing an insecure person could possibly make the situation worse and add to their own insecurities. No one responds well to being “dismissed” from the conversation. Instead, include them, but regardless of whether they venture into self-deprecation or extreme narcissism (or anything in between), the insecure elements should then be identified, examined and prayed over, and a decision should be made whether their actions are detrimental to themselves or others to a degree that they need to be addressed. If they do, then address them. Looking the other way may only serve to empower and escalate the same behavior.
Wait For The Right Time
The correct time to confront an insecure person may not be in the middle of a display of insecurity. If emotions are running high, then it would almost always be more fruitful to wait to address your concerns with them. I would say a private conversation, at least initially, is not only more productive but also a display of Christ-likeness. Private conversations may lead them to open up and reveal some of the more relevant issues that are causing them to display a behavior that is damaging to themselves or others around them. Addressing it publicly could be viewed as an attack and cause a bad situation to spin out of control. The goal is to help, to heal and to unify. If you’re going to address damaging behavior, be sure that you’re doing it at a moment when your own mind is calm, collected and seeking to understand and help.
Understand the Process
Understand that you’re not their savior, and your confrontation of the situation may not be the counseling they necessarily need to hear. You may not be the person God has called to counsel them through this difficulty and truly help them, but God has someone who can. Point them in a direction toward people who can help.
Never have the expectation that calling out bad behavior will change it immediately. There’s a process involved that is probably greater than your intervention. Pray diligently that God would lead them to people who will genuinely understand, care and engage them with love and grace. In turn, you show love and grace while the process takes place.
Create Healthy Boundaries
Each of us needs to examine our definition of healthy boundaries, for our own happiness and personal mental health. On the more docile side of insecurity—if an insecure person constantly seeks validation from you, this can distract you from things in your life that are more important. Frankly, it can also lead you to develop a little of your own personal brand of narcissism, so be careful.
On the more damaging side—if insecurity is leading someone to be personally aggressive towards you, or if they develop into a bully or narcissist, then you must examine how much of that behavior you intend to tolerate, based on your boundaries. There’s a saying that “What you allow is what will continue.” I believe this to be true in every sense of the word. Don’t allow the insecurity of others to take command of your mind, your life, or your organization.
If healthy boundaries can exist, then they need to exist. Determine your boundaries, and clearly communicate your boundaries and tolerances.
Know When to Cut Ties
If you’re reading my blog, you probably identify yourself to be a Christian, and I hope you do know Jesus. Scripture tells us to have love and compassion for others, even our enemies. It’s hard for a follower of Christ to eliminate another person from their life, because we feel it violates our call to be Jesus to our world. However, the sad truth is that there are people among us who are toxic, and they simply don’t want to be any other way. When this is the case, there is a time to cut ties with them. Even God, in Romans 1:28, gave some over to a depraved mind—those who thought the knowledge of God was not worthwhile. Don’t pursue a relationship that is grounded in toxicity. You don’t have to. Pray for them, love them, but understand that there may come a time for you to move on.
Luke 6:27-28 tells us, “…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
If all of the aforementioned fails to bring an understanding or change of behavior, then walk away. We can’t effectively fight every battle that rages inside of another person’s mind, even if their own battles spill over into our personal lives. And, do it all with a mindset of love, constantly looking for an opportunity to reconcile that relationship with the same grace that Christ has reconciled us unto God.
A Hymn Story of Friendship
Joseph Medlicott Scriven (1819-1886) was born in Seapatrick, Ireland and died in Ontario, Canada. He was a man of some wealth and he had the sincere heart of a servant. Joseph was a selfless person by nature, always looking for ways to serve others. He could often be seen walking through the streets of Lake Rice, Canada carrying a saw and sawhorse. Some would attempt to hire him to cut wood, but he would only offer his services for free, to those who could not afford the work.
He was born on September 10, 1819, in Ireland to a family of who possessed the financial means to send him to Trinity College in Dublin. He attended classes there before joining the military, training for service in India. Because of poor health, he resigned his military ambitions and returned to Trinity College where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1842.
Early in life, Joseph Scriven fell in love. The relationship led to a marriage proposal, which was readily accepted. The preparations for the ceremony were made, and everything was ready. On the evening before the wedding, his fiancé was crossing a bridge over the River Bann.
She fell from horse and accidentally drowned. Joseph was on the other side of the river and witnessed the accident; however, he could do nothing but helplessly observe the incident.
Full of sorrow and grief, Joseph began to wander. Around the age of 25, he found himself in Woodstock, Canada West (Ontario). Around 1844, Joseph was tutoring students, preaching and working among the impoverished. He would often serve and refuse compensation for his efforts. He was a viewed as a valuable and cherished member of that community. In 1857, he relocated to Bewdley, where he met and fell in love with Elisa Catherine Roche. Their relationship deepened and a wedding was planned. Sadly, in 1860 Elisa died of pneumonia before they could be married.
Joseph Scriven’s life was full of tragedy.
He was familiar with both love and loss, but he had a relevant relationship with Jesus. At one point, Joseph become ill, and while visiting with him, one of his friends discovered a poem at his bedside. When the friend inquired who had written the poem, Joseph replied, “The Lord and I did it between us.” It was never Joseph’s intention for anyone to see the poem but his mother. He had written the poem out of the pain and grief of his past experiences, and he intended to send it to his mother, who still lived in Ireland, to comfort her in her own sorrows.
It’s uncertain how “What A Friend We Have in Jesus” (Pray Without Ceasing) first became published. For many years it was printed with authorship unknown, or incorrectly attributed to Dr. Horatius Bonar. Regardless, it did become known and it became popular.
Samuel Caswell (1861-1938) published an early manuscript version that was signed by Scriven.
Of the hymn, Caswell stated that it was “beyond question the best-known piece of Canadian literature.” (Macpherson, “Scriven,” n.d.).
Stanza 1 is an establishment of the fact that Jesus is our friend, and that He can and will bear our burdens.
Stanza 2 asks two rhetorical questions. The are rhetorical because all of us, all of humankind, suffers from “trials and temptations” and become witness to “trouble.” The second stanza then answers the questions in the short refrain, “Take it to the Lord in prayer.” There’s also a third rhetorical question asking, “Can we find a friend so faithful…?” It’s an intimate friendship with the One who indeed “knows our every weakness.” The refrain returns to give the solution, “Take it to the Lord in prayer.”
Stanza 3 simply reframes the premise of the song using different questions, “Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?” And, “Do your friends despise, forsake you?” The answer to all the questions returns with the famous refrain, “Take it to the Lord in prayer.”
The song ends with Jesus wrapping His arms around His friend—who is us.
Hymnologist Fred Gealy found and additional stanza which was published in Hastings’ Songs of Pilgrimage: A Hymnal for the Churches of Christ (Boston, 1886; Second Ed. 1888) with a fourth stanza, which I will present below:
Blessed Jesus, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to Thee in earnest prayer
Soon in glory, bright, unclouded
There will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise, and endless worship
Shall be our sweet portion there
Jospeh Scriven died in October of 1886. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography describes all that we know about the circumstances of his death:
His last days were clouded with ill-health and despondency. James Sackville, his friend and fellow-believer, found Scriven ill and brought him to his house. One hot night in 1886, Scriven left his bed without disturbing anyone, probably to drink at a nearby spring: some hours later, presumably having fainted or fallen, he was found dead in the spillway of Sackville's grist-mill, a few feet from the spring. He was buried in the Pengelly burial-ground in an unmarked grave between Eliza Roach and Commander Pengelly. (Macpherson, “Scriven,” n.d.).
Only a few days before Scriven’s death, Sackville encountered Scriven thoroughly dejected.
At this meeting, Scriven told his friend that, “I wish the Lord would take me home.” (Cleland, 1895, p.17) It was never fully determined if Scriven’s death was natural, accidental or a suicide.
Jesus was a friend to Joseph Scriven, and it was obvious that through a lifetime of service to God, Scriven experienced some deep tragedy. If the closing thoughts of his life are recorded correctly by Scriven’s friend, then Jesus did indeed come and take him home.
Like many other disciples of Christ who have gone on before us, including my own father only a few months ago, Scriven now understands more deeply about the friendship of Jesus and the magnificent “Precious Savior” who is “our refuge.” And, as the mostly unpublished fourth stanza puts forth, they are all involved in “praise and endless worship,” which is “out sweet portion there.”
Jay Macpherson, “Scriven, Joseph Medlicott,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography
(Vol XI (1881–1890)
James Cleland, What a Friend We Have in Jesus and Other Poems by Joseph Scriven with
a Sketch of the Author
(Port Hope: W. Williamson, Publishers, 1895)
A Hymn Story of Peace
Philippians 4:7 says,
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.”
Almost 150 years ago, the words of that verse took on a new meaning for one man.
On November 21, 1873, the French ocean liner, Ville du Havre, collided with the Scottish ship, Loch Earn, while both were crossing the Atlantic. Among the 313 souls on board the Ville du Havre was the wife and children of Horatio G. Spafford, a successful attorney from Chicago.
Mr. Spafford, his wife and four daughters had planned a trip to Europe. His wife, Anna, and their four daughters boarded the Ville du Havre, but business matters held Horatio Spafford in Chicago. His plans were to join them in Europe a few days later.
Four days into the crossing the ships collided. About 12 minutes after the collision, the Ville du Havre sank into the cold waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 of the 313 souls aboard her. Among those were Mr. Spafford’s wife, Anna, and their four young daughters, Annie, Margaret Lee, Bessie and Tanetta.
Some time later, a sailor in a rowboat navigated his small vessel over the spot where the large ship went down. He spotted a woman desperately clinging to floating debris from the collision. That woman was Horatio Spafford’s wife, Anna. She was pulled into the smaller boat alive, and around nine days later, she was eventually delivered safely to Cardiff, Wales. She wired her husband a message which began, “Saved alone, what shall I do?” Among some of the survivors was a clergyman whom we know as Pastor Weiss. He later recalled Anna Spafford saying, “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand.”
Mr. Spafford quickly booked passage to join his grieving wife. Almost a week into the passage, the captain of his ship called for Mr. Spafford to join him in his office where he informed him that they were currently over the location where his children went down.
According to Bertha Spafford Lester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Horatio Spafford penned the powerful and poignant lyrics to “It Is Well With My Soul” while on this journey.
When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul
It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
Horatio Spafford’s life was spent among horrific grief and loss. Before the tragedy at sea, Horatio Spafford lost a young son to pneumonia. The year was 1871. In that same year, the great Chicago fire would destroy the majority of his business.
Only two short years later in 1873, he would lose his four daughters to the tragedy at sea. And in the years following, he would lose a sixth child to pneumonia.
In August of 1881, the Spaffords moved to Jerusalem. He lived the rest of his life in that city, and he is buried there today.
Life can be hard. Tragedy and death will touch us all at some point, and the man-made fortresses that we erect out of our own strength will simply crumble and fall amidst the weight of pain and grief that only God can heal.
For those who know Christ, He is the only Comforter. It is Christ and Christ alone who can inspire a man who has experienced such great loss to pen the lyrics of a hymn, lyrics claiming peace, while floating above the very location where the ocean consumed his four young daughters.
I love hymns, and I love the stories behind them, for they are often powerful. Those stories give us insight into the minds and hearts of God’s people—people who are often molded into the image of Christ through great sorrow. We can find tremendous hope in the lyrics and songs they have left behind, for they are poetic evidence of God’s hand at work. That same hand is at work today.
I’m thankful for Horatio G. Spafford. His faith and trust were tested in ways that many of us will never experience, yet His love and trust in God enabled him to find peace in the very waters that brought him such a great sorrow.
“…Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” — Job 1:21
He is without equal. He is the pearl of all of Heaven, and His glory is made manifest in all of His creation. His name and title we are unworthy to even speak, yet this same magnificent Christ lovely kneels low to hear what can often be inaudible utterances of pain and grief in the life of His children—children who are often devoid of real joy.
Elisabeth Elliot has it right. “The secret of joy is Christ in me—not me in a different set of circumstances.”
As I studied Hebrews today, this thought occurred to me: Our definition of the joy of Christ is often horribly skewed. Horribly. Horribly skewed. When things are going well, Christ is viewed as good and joy is easy. It’s almost cheap. When life and circumstances take a darker turn, we fail to experience the same cheap and easy joy we thought we possessed previously. In those moments, joy becomes much more expensive, because the true currency of real joy is intimate relationship with Christ. When we “lose our joy” in bad circumstances, the truth may be that we never possessed it to begin with.
Real joy, the joy of the Lord, is not exclusive to only good times; real joy is all inclusive through good times and bad. There's moments that it can be harder to find, but the joy of the Lord is grounded in our recognition and relevant relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the Truth. Real joy cannot be culled or squeezed out of emotion, because human emotion is often the enemy of real truth.
For too many years I’ve seen church services and messages that try desperately to cater to the whimsy of human emotion, and the aforementioned can easily generate an emotional response in the moment. It can catalyze a situational joy, but sadly, that situational joy can be quickly fleeting when the individual is thrust out of church sheltered and planned environment of a church service and back into a world full of very real and ever perplexing evils. People can flood the altar, they can dance, scream and shout, and they can shed tears in response to the triggering of their emotions in the circumstance of a worship service, and then they can walk out of the front doors completely unchanged, still living a life without real joy—living a life where Christ is magnificent at church but almost undetectable elsewhere. They may be living a lie.
We can’t place the foundation of our joy on the pedestal of a church service or a pastor’s message. If we can’t carry that same joy past the front door, through the gossipers and hypocrisy that can often be encountered on our way out of the church building directly following a service, then it may not be genuine.
If we don’t carry that joy into the parking lot, on our trip home and out into a world where pain and grief exist in great quantity, then we don’t possess the real joy of the Lord.
If the circumstances that invoke joy only revolve around a church service or an impassioned message, then we don’t possess the real joy of the Lord; instead, we are only experiencing a flood of deceptive human emotions that lead to no lasting change or joy when times become hard and the currency of real joy becomes tested beyond the boundaries of the church altar.
I’ve watched this very thing occur frequently for over 20 years—incredible church services, inspiring music and moving messages that often seem to generate more momentary emotion than they do relevant change—change leading to more intimacy with Christ, which, in turn, produces foundational joy in the tough times.
My friends, don’t pray for easier circumstances; pray for more Jesus. Don’t let Satan convince you that your alligator tears shed at the church altar on Sunday are sufficient to buy you joy through the succeeding six days, days which can be filled with bad behavior, faithless living and good feelings about a life unchanged by the Gospel while outside of the conditioned-air of a church sanctuary.
Jesus is looking for you, right now...
He’s seeking you out for a conversation regarding who inhabits the throne of your life. He’s offering to you more than eternal security from hell; He’s offering you grace and mercy for struggles and pain, a grace and mercy that embody the only place where real joy resides.
If the secret of your joy is a church service once a week, then your joy is not grounded in Christ, my friend, and it’s not real joy. Churches are easy to find, a real, relevant, life-altering walk with the Lord can only be found by digging deeper than momentary religious activity.
Real joy is relational; it is not situational. God's grace and mercy in your life is not more dynamic in the event of a church service. For the true child of God whose relationship with Christ is intimate and growing, real joy can be found anywhere and in any situation. As I stated previously, it can be harder to find in difficult situations, but it can be found if the relationship is real. Go to church, it's important, but build a greater relationship with Jesus than with the activity of simple church attendance, which can often stir emotions that are subject to change when we walk out of the church and into a world full of strife.
Find Jesus. Find joy.
Life is hard, but for those who really know the Lord, God’s goodness and joy can always be found. Always.
God’s call is clear; don’t allow your life to be conformed to a world of evil. Let your life become the “thusia,” or sacrifice, on God’s altar, and give Him everything. Your engagement with our Creator in this manner will cause you to see the evils of this world with a clarity that those who simply practice “church-going” won’t see. It will help to keep you in a state of non-conformity to the world you must live in, and it’s the first step toward the beautiful gift of transformation. I call it a gift, because I think it is. I'll explain that later in this post.
So, let’s discuss a little more of this verse...
Romans 12.2 - …but be transformed…
The word transformed here is the “metamorphoó,” and it means “to be changed after being with.” It’s the root of our own English word "metamorphosis." Our own dictionaries define it well, “a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.” Interestingly, the English language dictionaries also describe it this way, “the transformation from an immature form to an adult and mature form.” It’s a conversion or alteration from and old “A" to a new and very distinctive “B.” I like to call it a “renovation.”
Also important, the conjunction “but” is the word “alla.” Here, this is a strong term of contrast that represents an abrupt halt and reversal from the negative command to “not be conformed” and to the positive command to “be transformed.” It reveals how important this transformation is to God and should be to us.
As sinful people who tend to crawl off of altars of living sacrifice, the good news for us is that metamorphoó, or transformation, is in the passive voice and the present tense.
What in the world does that mean? Let’s talk about the passive voice aspect first.
The passive voice here means that it’s something only God can accomplish, and we are only required to be passive (accepting of the process without resistance to it) as God undertakes the renovations (transformations) within us. It doesn’t mean that we have no responsibilities in the process. Our very first responsibility would be to stay on the altar and continue the surrendering of our life to God, growth in our relationship with Him, engagement with Scripture, dying to the old self, etc…. The One who will do this work within us is the Holy Spirit.
Look at the beautiful words of II Corinthians 3:18, which states, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
The outside force catalyzing this transformation is the Holy Spirit of God. Hang on to the altar friends, because God will do the work within you. Even more profound, He will continue to do it.
As I said before, transformation is in the passive voice but present tense. Simplified, the present tense implies that this is not a one-time brush with God’s power that’s only for a moment and then He pulls away. Instead, it’s a continual process, and often a very gradual process, that moves us from who we were to who God desires us to be. It’s a lifelong journey, and the Holy Spirit will never retire from His transformational work within us as long as we walk this globe. What an incredible promise revealed through digging into the Greek!
So, we are to have non-conformity to the world and be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirt, as a result of our presence on the altar as a living sacrifice. To many, this may mean a simple disengagement with worldly “things.” Look at your life’s list of activities and mark through the bullet points that don’t glorify God. Actually, that’s probably not a bad first step, but I think there’s much more to real transformation than that–much, much more. Marking thought bad bullets points may deal more with our external behaviors than our internal nature, meaning that excluding them from that list may help in our transformation, but it will not, by itself, achieve true transformation.
The truly God-led alternative to our immoral behaviors is not as simple as replacing them with a shiny new list of moral behaviors, complete with boxes to check when we “perform” what we deem to be required. Again, we love the “box-checking” method of tracking. It makes us feel good. Sunday School: check. Worship attendance: check. Tithing: check. I prayed a little longer and missed the opening kickoff of the football game: check, check. True transformation isn’t about checking boxes or altering our works to become more righteous. Scripture addresses the filthy nature of our works. With true transformation, our works will certainly be altered, but it will require more than a change in physical works. If we have a genuine relationship with God, we can’t become more righteous in His eyes through activity, because He views us through the shed blood of our Savior.
Real transformation is something much more. It’s purposes have been bought by the precious blood of Jesus, the very same blood that makes us righteous in God the Father’s eyes. It’s not a simple work of praying longer or attending church; instead, it’s the complex process of real internal change that can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. Real transformation is profound, so profound that we must be passive and offer no resistance to the process, as we are unable to work out any part of it in our own lives. And, real transformation is life-altering, because it’s not a box-check that we may eventually become too distracted by the evils of the world to accomplish. Instead, it’s a renovation of our core drive, a conversion of our baseline character and morals, a transformation of the way think and act and a rebirthing of the Lordship in our life. Again, it’s more than works.
I would say the very best examples of what real transformation looks like can be defined by the fruit of the Spirit of God.
Galatians 5:19-22 says, "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…”
The Holy Spirit doesn’t replace our old list with a new list of works grounded in legalism; instead, He replaces it with beautiful things that are supernaturally birthed within us–things only God can bring about. This is why I view transformation as a gift. We can’t achieve it on our own, the Holy Spirit must enact it, and the results of the transformation are things of such extraordinary quality that we will wonder how we ever lived a day on this earth without them, and we hope our remaining days are full of them.
I’m going to end here for today. I know we’re not moving very fast, but the depth of meaning found in Scripture should be given respect, and it should be given time.
Let me say this, as well…. I recently received an email from someone who reads my blog, and they were very complimentary regarding the depth of the content. They said that “they wished their pastor and Sunday School teacher went this deep.” Friends, your pastor doesn’t have the time to go this deep during a Sunday or Wednesday service, and neither does your Sunday School teacher. I would almost guarantee that your pastor breaks apart Scripture in this manner weekly, but there's only so much time to present a message. I would hope your Sunday School teacher studies Scripture in this same manner, but I will almost assure you that your pastor does. With that being said, know that it is our responsibility to grow in Christ, and that growth should inspire us to study Scripture in a way that can only be achieved through the personal sacrifice of our time. You don’t need a theological library to research the text in Greek or Hebrew. Honestly, you really only need a computer or your mobile phone. The resources are there, but is your passion? Don't blame your pastor for not being able to fit 10 hours of study into a 40 minute message. And, don't blame him for the knowledge that you don't possess of Scripture. You have a Bible, right?
The longer I spend in God’s Word, the more desire I have to dissect it for it’s real worth and value to my life. Let me encourage you to do more than read Scripture as a means to “check it off the list” for the day. Let me encourage you to read Scripture without seeking a prejudiced message, or trying to find the perfect “cherry-picked” verse to fit nicely into the “hole" of your broken emotions or troubles. Read Scripture for what it is, for the message it contains, and rejoice when it offends the fleshly nature we all hold so dear to our hearts. When we become offended by God’s message, that means it’s finally talking to us in a way that we can understand, and it’s addressing our life, transforming our way of thinking and equipping us to leave a definitive mark for God on a world that is scarred by hatred, evil and rebellion. Read Scripture for communication, absorb it into your soul and allow it renovate your old and build inside you something beautiful and new.
As we move into verse 2 of Romans 12, we see some attributes associated with the living sacrifice of ourselves on God’s altar. God knows how hard it is to sacrifice the old self, and He understands the many things that Satan has designed to purposely trip us up and give us a desire to reclaim our independence. Remember that the main problem with living sacrifices is that they tend to crawl off the altar. Our existence in a world of half-hearted cynics, greedy and Godless culture, nominal Christianity and rampant evil doesn’t necessarily bring great empowerment to our goal of living a life that is holy and righteous. The world works against us, but since we can’t move to another planet, we should probably learn to live a life for Christ in the world where we’ve been planted, and we should live that life in a state of preparedness.
12:2 - Do not be conformed…
Conformed here is the word “suschématizó” (Gk). It’s meaning is “fashioning oneself in accordance with another (i.e., one’s mind and character.). It also means to “assume the similar outward form of another.”
The conformation that Paul is referencing here is twofold, including both an internal and external change. Frankly, in either order, one would most likely always follow the other. It is conformity that would cause us to act like and even begin to look like something else. This conformity takes place because of our exposure to something, and I would say, on many occasions, it happens because of our unprepared exposure to something.
12:2 - Do not be conformed to this world…
As I mention above, we live in Godless and greedy world that is literally overflowing with all kinds of evil, but Paul isn’t referencing the earth in the sense of the our “orbiting world” of dirt, stone and water.
World here is “aión” (Gk), and it means “an age, an era (characterized by a specific quality or a cycle (of time), especially of the present age as contrasted with the future age.”
This is important, because the terrestrial ball on which we live doesn’t have a say in the weighty conversation of how sin effects the life and eternal security of man. The world itself, with its vast and beautiful horizons, mighty oceans and magnificently rugged mountain ranges is a creation of God, and in that creation, we can clearly see the glory of Him who spoke it into being. (See: Romans 1:19-20; Psalm 8:3-4; Psalm 19:1-6). The earth screams the splendor, beauty, sovereignty and magnificence of God. The earth itself is not evil; however, those inhabiting it tend to be.
Paul is referencing the age and cultural qualities of the timeframe in which we live. He’s calling into focus the evil practices that seemingly worsen with the passing of each year. He’s calling out a generation of people who have embraced humanism (an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters) and dismissed God as something of lesser importance than their own current and growing selfish and evil desires.
Paul urges us to not let this age alter us, internally or externally. He knows the clear and present dangers to the disciple of Christ sojourning on this earth, in this age, with the Godless and humanistic mindset of culture. Although he doesn’t word it this way, Paul, in verse 1, is literally pleading with is to be prepared for our brush with this age by laying our very life down to the power, purposes and promises of God. He’s calling for us to kill off the old and sinful self, which would very much enjoy the delicacies of humanism, devote ourselves to communication and growth in God, which will prove necessary in avoiding crawling off the altar and back into the muddy filth of culture, and to allow God to be the Author of good works in our life. Paul knew that we would have to live our lives among such great evil and Godlessness, and he didn’t want us to experience it unprepared to engage it in a manner that is reflective of God’s love and power in our own life, laid on the altar of God as a living sacrifice.
We live in such a difficult age of hatred and recklessness. We see evil and Godlessness at every single turn.
“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”
Matthew 24:6-8 (ESV)
We see it across the globe, as strife and conflict continue to grow on a worldwide stage, nation against nation. It will only get worse.
“And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”
Matthew 24:12 (ESV)
We see the pure hatred of political movements bent on dividing the races and dismantling the laws which delicately hold together such a fragile structure of peace in our societies. Our peace is purposefully being disturbed, and, in that, our love for one another is placed under pressures that challenge even the most loving and forgiving among us.
“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray…And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”
Matthew 24:5,11 (ESV)
We even see evil parading around as "well-dressed Godliness" from many pulpits. This shouldn’t surprise us, as the church was the enemy of Christ when He walked this earth. Why would we assume it would be different today? Sadly, celebrity pastors, more concerned with creating a name and following for themselves, can be seen leading and abusing way more churches than I am comfortable admitting. We have seen it with the atrocity of Mars Hill. Some would hide their true intentions behind Biblically-based messages, making it hard to detect the evil in their real motives and character. Other false prophets would just outright teach a contrary gospel. Many spiritual leaders are now “stepping away” from the faith, claiming there is no God. Either way, the church is now in more danger from the pulpit than it has been in the past, and it’s up to us to become self-feeders of the truth so we can see God clearly. A living sacrifice, prepared to engage with an evil world, will have this clarity of vision.
My last point today is this, and it’s an ugly truth that many casual Christians dismiss outright, but it’s in the context of Romans 12:2, and it’s important to know and understand.
Possibly one of the most stark and pointed warnings of Matthew 24, regarding the signs of the end of the age, is found in verse 9 and 10.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.”
Matthew 24:9-10 (ESV)
Bad things are coming on this earth for the true child of God. The casual Christian with only a nominal understanding of God’s Word doesn’t like to discuss things like imprisonment or death for their faith in Christ. I don’t know if they have never read the Bible, don’t believe it, think that these things will come thousands of years down the road, or just don’t care, but either way they are important to understand in the context of today and what Paul is trying to prepare us for in this present and evil age.
Hiding behind the profound Scriptural ignorance of many who would today call Christ Lord is the lack of understanding that these things (imprisonment and death) are already occurring on our globe. Christians are imprisoned and killed every single day for their faith in many countries, and we can be assured that those tribulations are headed to our very nation. Shouldn’t we be mentally and spiritually prepared to meet this aspect of an evil culture when it arrives at our doorstep?
For so many, the punishment of “death for belief” isn’t even in the orbit of personal rationalization for them, because they can’t even comprehend being disliked or hated for their faith. This is going to sound harsh, but my description here is clearly intentional: The average bobble-headed worshipper found in so many churches today, sporting their Christian jewelry and snazzy screen-printed t-shirts, that boldly read “Blessed,” (or some other feel good message) is probably not hated for the “faith” that is so pronounced and defined by their t-shirt. Why is this? I would say it’s because their faith is thin, feckless, and without depth of character and integrity. If it were a faith that was life-changing and sincere, there would be those in the world who could identify it (without the assistance of the t-shirt), and they would hate them for it. They would hate them because Scripture promises us they will, no other reason is needed. Yet, we see so many “Christians” who are embraced by a culture, and they have an embrace for a culture, where they should not fit in. What’s the reason for this? The reason is they have been conformed to culture and their lives, lived in a manner that is not challenging the corrupt evils around them, are accepted by the present age. Their faith isn’t a challenge to Satan’s agenda, and their lives, although full of good works, are not leaving a definitive mark for Christ on the world around them. They, and their snazzy t-shirt, have crawled off the altar, because they met have met the “aión” (the present age) unprepared.
So, Paul is directing us to not allow the evil of culture found in this present age to mold us into its disciple. We should be prepared to engage this present age of evil, greed and humanism with the timeless message of God’s love, His sovereignty and His eventual return.
If we read Scripture, specifically Matthew 24, we know where the world is headed. Love it or hate it, that’s where we’re going, and the speed of the trip seems to be increasing exponentially. We might as well embrace the truth and prepare for the actions of an evil world toward Christ and those who would claim His name. These things are Satan’s fleeting attempts to corrupt and destroy as much and as many as possible in a battle that he has already lost.
Thank you for reading, and I pray you leave a definitive mark for Jesus on your world today.
It’s day three, and we’re still in Romans 12:1. There’s always a wealth of knowledge to unpack from the language of Scripture. If you’re hanging with me, it is my prayer that you’re seeing this verse come into focus in a new way. We ended the previous post with the understanding that the life (“zaó”) we bring to the altar of God, the life that God is desiring of this willing sacrifice, is a life that is much more than physiologically processing blood and air, but a life that is alive in, not only the recognition of, but the practice of the goodness, mercies, grace, and increasing knowledge of God. It is a life with a vibrant and growing relationship with our Creator. God desires that life to be brought to the altar and willingly laid down as a “living sacrifice.” But, what does the sacrificial surrender of our life mean? To really understand this current sacrificial concept, we must first look back at the Biblical significance of sacrifice.
The Biblical idea of sacrifice deals with our way of approach to Almighty God and finding approval before Him by means of sacrificing an acceptable substitute offering given in place of the sinner. This “substitute” bears the curse of sin and appeases the righteous nature of God, a nature which demands justice be enacted upon our sin.
Sacrifice holds a prominent place in the entire cannon of Scripture, but specifically in the Old Testament, extending all the way to the root of human kind being planted in the Garden of Eden. Starting in Genesis, we must only read through 3 chapters before God must enable a sacrifice to cover the sins of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). Cain and Able followed with their own sacrifices in Genesis 4:2-5. Noah sacrificed in Genesis 8:20, and Abraham sacrificed in Genesis 12, 13, 18 and 22. And so it continued with Isaac and Jacob, etc….
As early as Exodus, we see God laying out to Moses a very detailed set of instructions, including instructions for sacrifice, that would form the foundation for Israel’s very specific system of worship before God under the old covenant. There were burnt offerings, guilt offerings, sin offerings and peace offerings. All of these were to be used at various times for specific purposes. Sacrificial offerings take a less prominent role in the New Testament, but sacrifice still dominates the narrative because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. It’s safe to say that God has always covered our sin and shame in a way that demanded the death of something.
An important aspect of sacrificial offerings before God is the fact that they must be acceptable before Him.
12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…
Holy is “hagios” (Gk), and it has a multitude of different meanings. Primarily, it means “sacred or set apart by (or for) God.” This word also implies the idea of “being different,” as in “different from the world because it is like God.” Where sacrifices are concerned, for an offering to be “hagios,” it would need to be “solemnly and explicitly prepared for God with the purest of intentions and cleanliness.”
Acceptable is “euarestos” (Gk), and it means “well-pleasing or grateful.”
Where animals were concerned, God demanded the very best. How often do we give God our worst, because we believe it’s all we can afford, or possibly it’s all we’re really willing to give? Do we think God will understand and smile down upon it, simply because we showed up with something? Did we prepare it for Him, or was it just something easy or convenient to offer? Possibly it’s something that we didn’t even want? It’s easy to sacrifice the pitifully deformed calf born with two heads and three legs (one of which is growing out of it’s ear) – yeah, it’s easy to load that ugly little beast up on the trailer and bring it to the altar. We should, however, be very careful to examine the amount of certainty with which we throw it on the fire. The fact that we’ve arrived with a sacrifice doesn’t necessarily qualify it as being “euarestos,” or pleasing to the Lord.
Sacrifices are important in God’s eyes, and they should be important in our eyes. There’s so much more that I want to say on this, but there’s just not the time, and I don’t want to distract from the main point which is God desiring our very life as a living sacrifice, willingly made, as a result of our recognition of His glorious mercies already poured out into our life (as well as those we know are coming).
In 12:1, the word sacrifice is “thusia,” (Gk) and it means “sacrifice, offering, or a victim.”
We know that the sacrifice of our own living flesh could not possibly be meant to cover any sins, because our sins have already been atoned for by the blood of Jesus. The evidence of this can be found in Scripture. Among those verses are Hebrews 9:12, II Corinthians 5:21 and Romans 3:24-25. So, it’s not a sacrifice for sin. It’s also not an offering of symbolic nature, performed as a remembrance or recognition of the atonement that Christ’s blood has already paid for on the cross. It’s not an offering to keep our salvation intact and in good standing, because our salvation is not works-based (Galatians 3:10-11; Ephesians 2:9-10).
If we’re going to understand the meaning of “living sacrifice” in Romans 12:1, we may want to exegete the rest of the verse.
The whole of 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The last phrase is important.
The word translation of spiritual here very interesting. It is “logikos” (Gk), and it literally means “reasonable or rational.” The root word is “lógos” (Gk), meaning “a word (as embodying and idea) or the expression of a thought.” The word “lógos” is preeminently used of Christ expressing the “thoughts” of the Father through the Spirit. It’s Christ sharing God the Father’s “reasoning” through the Holy Spirit, expressed by words. More properly, it means “logical” because of something being “divinely reasonable.” So here, concerning worship, the implication is this worship, in the logical thoughts and reasoning of God the Father, expressed through the Spirit (spiritual) is to be found “euarestos,” or pleasing to God.
And finally, the word worship is “latreía” (Gk), and it means “sacred service, divine service, service rendered unto God or worship.”
So worship here means service, specifically “service rendered unto God.” Now we can begin to understand the sacrifice. Breathe easy, you probably won’t have to die.
As I mentioned earlier, “killing” sacrifices in the New Testament are less prominent than in the Old Testament. We see a N.T. example of sacrifice as being something more of service than slaying. Look at what Paul says in Philippians 4:18 as he describes a gift he received from a Philippian church. This verse says, “…I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
Here, Paul is saying that the church, in meeting his needs and serving him, was giving an offering and sacrifice that was pleasing to God, because it helped to serve the causes of God being performed by the ministry of Paul. And, God was pleased.
With that being said, I believe that the “living sacrifices” Paul is referring to absolutely means our lives, fervently committed to God, but, the sacrifice itself is a sacrifice of service to the things that build up the kingdom of God, make His name known, and bring blessings to God and to His children. Among those, and probably the very first sacrifice that should be made daily, is the sacrifice of our old self.
As I’ve written previously, the word sacrifice is “thusia,” (Gk) and it means “sacrifice, offering, or a victim.” When our lives are committed to the things of God, and we are consistently growing in intimacy with Him, there are victims found in the wake of those circumstances. Those “victims” are the desires, habits, language, opinions and rebellion of the old self. The diminishing of these “old ways” pave a clear path forward to relationship and service to God in a “new way.” When we are in Christ, we have a new self. We are a new creation.
Look quickly to Colossians 3:1-17. I believe this passage of Scripture is a great roadmap to the type of sacrificing of the old self that we must choose to perform on that altar of God.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
I believe the primary sacrifice God is looking for us to make daily is the continual killing of the old self, enabling in us the opportunity to serve God far less hindered by our flesh nature. This doesn’t happen by accident; It happens by choice, in a headlong pursuit of a holy and righteous God. Sacrificing the sinful natures of who we were before Christ is pleasing to God, as He sees us journey forward in our relationship with Him. Note that it doesn’t make Him love us more. I John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” We can’t buy God’s love for us by performing Godly actions, because His love for us was perfect from the beginning. So, it won’t make God love us more, but it will make us love God more, and, in turn, other beautiful acts of service and worship will flow, and God will be pleased.
Paul is urging us to make the choice to offer ourselves up to God, sacrificing the old and sinful self, and become a new creation daily, which is pleasing to God. This is our reasonable, and even logical, service/worship to Him for the wonderful mercies that He has bestowed upon our lives.
In the following verse, Paul addresses some of the qualities of a “living sacrifice.” We’ll discuss those in the next post. Until then, stand in awe of the opportunity that God has given to each of us to live our lives in a sacrificial mindset. Daily, we can seek Him. Daily, we can absorb more of His Word. Daily, we can eliminate a little more of the old self and find even more beauty in the new creation that God is enabling in us through our choice to become a living sacrifice.
My last post left us with Paul’s begging appeal to Rome. It’s an appeal to all of us, and the strength behind his urging is the limitless love and incredible, proven, reliable, and undeserved mercy of God toward His children. Paul is saying, “Please come, I beg you to come because of these wonderful things that God has already done!” But what is he inviting us to? Many would be disappointed that the destination of the invitation is a sacrificial altar. Don’t animals die on such things?
As we move into the second part of Romans 12:1, Paul moves from a begging appeal to a challenge that involves exactly everything we are.
Romans 12:1 states, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies…
Present is the word “paristémi” (Gk), and it means “to stand close beside or bring up to.” Bodies is the word “sóma” (Gk), and it can mean “the body of church;” however, here it would mean “our physical living flesh or mortal bodies.”
Leave it to Paul to not ask for much. I’m sure some of the first readers of this text thought Paul’s appeal would be for some cash, or maybe a little extra time in prayer or service. But, no. Paul just asks for everything, our whole body, all we are, the substance of everything we’re made of.
Although we didn’t ask for it, Christ offered to us the substance of everything He was made of on the cross. However, even before the crucifixion, we see Jesus offering everything. He left nothing on the table. Christ left the splendor of Heaven, a place of perfection in the presence of God, the Father. He left a glorified body to become flesh and subject Himself to the harshness of life on earth. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”. He even chose to make His entrance into our world through the womb. There were certainly easier ways, but He chose to empty Himself of the glory of Heaven and subject a frail body of flesh to the rigors of childbirth.
But the totality of His sacrifices did not end with His birth and eventual death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-7 says, “…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Christ spent His life serving mankind. He walked from town to town teaching them truth, healing their sick, raising their dead and serving as the ultimate example of humility and love among groups who were often hostile toward Him.
There was no sinful pride or destructive narcissism displayed in life of Christ, although He could have manifested Himself to be King at any given time. He didn’t have to live His life as a homeless nomad with “no place to lay His head” at night (Matthew 8:19-20; Luke 9:57-58). Although Jesus and His disciples would often stay in the homes of others who would allow them shelter, He was functionally homeless and living in poverty. He also lived His life on earth under the microscope of scrutiny and rebuke from the Pharisees and Sadducees. These two religious sects of Judaism, both holding powerful seats within the 70 member supreme court of ancient Israel (the Sanhedrin), eventually allied and conspired together against Christ. Christ could have stopped their foolishness at any time, demanding they kneel and serve Him, but He chose to humbly defeat every argument they posed and use these interactions to teach those involved that the truth of God will arise victorious when challenged–every single time.
Philippians 2:8 says, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This last example is the ultimate sacrifice that Christ chose to make on our behalf. To most of you, it needs no explanation, but let’s agree that the King of kings did not have to submit to any of the treacherous planning that eventually led to His mock trial, intense physical abuse, and eventual crucifixion at the hands of the Roman government. He could have taken complete charge of those situations, but He chose to become a living sacrifice, and He chose that path for us.
Just as Paul is pleading with us, based on the mercies of God already expressed and proven trustworthy, Jesus has already set the example of the highest bar of sacrifice. He’s always ahead of us in proving Himself to be trustworthy and deserving of our highest praise and allegiance.
Continuing in verse 12:1, Paul is pleading with us to bring our living flesh (bodies) to God’s altar as a living sacrifice.
In 12:1, the word living is the verb “zaó,” and it means “to live, be among the living, not lifeless or dead.” This word is interesting, because it conveys more than just the presence of life. In the emphatic and Messianic sense, this word is used to describe the quality of life of the one living it. The same word is used in Luke 10:28, John 5:25, John 11:25, Romans 1:17, and at least 15 other verses to imply that this life is "blessed, true and a life worthy of the name of God.”
Our “living” sacrifice should be more than bringing a stagnate and uninspired living form to the side of the altar of God. An example of this today would be cold, uninspired worshipers who fill church houses in 2021. They have arrived "at" worship, but their faces and hearts are cold, appearing dead and lifeless, before the magnificent presence of God Almighty. They have not come to worship; instead, they have arrived to be entertained, while they lazily and half-heartedly scratch at the surface of a relationship with the Lord that they know they need, but, by the fruit of their example, have little interest in pursuing. God could often receive a greater “sacrifice of praise” by propping up corpses in a morgue than He receives during a service time specifically set aside to honor Him.
This is not the living sacrifice that God is looking for. This is not the “living life” (“zaó,”) described in the text. Instead, our living sacrifice should be a vital and active presence that is as alive from the intentional and daily pursuit of the blessings and virtues of God as it is from the blood and oxygen that feed it’s physiological processes. Paul is urging us to bring a life that is alive and well in Christ to the altar, because a life of half-hearted devotion and nominal Christianity will not make a true sacrifice. It would be safe to assume that the average Christian church attender today wouldn’t crawl off of this altar, because they would never even approach it to begin with.
Paul has pleaded, and Christ has proven His mercies, We’ve discussed how Jesus sacrificed everything on our behalf, setting the bar. He’ll never ask us to venture down a road where He has not already been and won the victory. And now, in this verse, we’ve arrived with our bodies, wholly alive and blessed by a vibrant and active relationship with God, at a sacrificial altar. Hmm? I’ve already posed the question above, “Don’t animals die on such things?” Is God now expecting us to assume a similar role to Jesus and literally die? Would He bring us so far in our relationship that He would ask us to end our life, and if so, for what cause?
What does offering our bodies as a living sacrifice actually mean? We’ll discuss it in the next post. Until then, be reminded that Christ is a Savior full of proven mercies to His children. He’s also a Savior who emptied Himself completely for the cause of sacrifice in the service of those same children. We could ask for no greater actions on our behalf, and we have received no less than His absolute best. What a gift to be loved so deeply.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!