Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
The world’s most expensive new car is $18,000,000 (Bugatti La Voiture Noire). The most expensive house is around $2,000,000,000. According to Google, the most expensive thing in the world is apparently Walmart. It’s either Walmart or a $4,800,000,000 gold yacht. On the average US salary for a family it would take 100,000 households’ total income to purchase. Or, it would take one person 100,000 years.
For most of us, those numbers are unattainable. That kind of value is totally out of reach.
Jesus did something that makes those numbers look pathetic. He paid our insurmountable debt with something that cannot be valued with any mortal currency (I Peter 1.18,19; Acts 20.28).
He values His church at one eternal blood sacrifice (Hebrews 9). We could not possibly drum up enough money over all history and economies to even approach one eternal blood sacrifice. And He paid that for us. God gave up everything to “buy” our spiritual freedom.
I doubt myself constantly and even feel somewhat worthless at times. It’s part of our humanity! We instinctively know that we’re insignificant in this universe (Ps. 8; Ps. 144). But like David said (twice), He does care for and think about us, despite our insignificance.
Spending eternity with God will be incredible by itself, but knowing that at death we will be face-to-face with the One who sees us as being that valuable is so exciting!! Knowing this, let’s do whatever it takes to make it there (I Cor. 6; 7; I Pet. 1.18f; Rev. 22.14-17).
On at least two different occasions, Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9.13; Matthew 12.7). It’s quoted from Hosea 6.6, but in multiple other passages God tells us that He prefers obedience over going through the motions of worship (Isaiah 1.11ff; Amos 5.21; Micah 6; Mark 7).
This is NOT saying that worship is less important than obedience, since obedience causes us to worship. It does show God’s attitude toward those who claim to follow Him, but whose actions say otherwise.
Listen to the force behind His words in Amos 5.21, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” Israel had adopted some religious and social misconduct.
Do our actions cause God to wince at our worship? Israel was God’s chosen nation, but when they neglected to show mercy, justice, compassion, or faithfulness, God rejected their worship and sent them into captivity.
So what kind of worship does God love? Obedience, mercy, pursuing good, showing compassion to those less powerful, integrity, justice, and being morally pure (Amos 5.11ff).
Walk with me through the crowd. At times, it will be frightening, heartbreaking, disgusting, even angering. Some are in masks. Some aren’t. You see far-left and far-right extremists, assaulting each other and maybe threatening you. Past the rioters, the protesters, the grief-stricken. You even see political activists posing as Christians spewing divisive rhetoric around–acting and reacting. There are racists of every color. Politicians. The lukewarm and apathetic. Some are jobless. Some homeless. Some wealthy and well-to-do. Many enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. They are from literally every walk of life. In many ways, this crowd is full of folks who are nothing alike or have little in common with others in it. But, in the way that counts most, they are so much alike.
You try to push through the enormous crowd full of the listless, the rudderless, the hopeless, the lonely, and the misunderstood. As you get back behind them, there’s the devil and his angels pouring over their playbook. He is the ruler of this world (John 12:31), unleashing the spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). There is a connection between this “prince of the power of the air” and “the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). He wants us all distracted from what he’s trying to hide behind him. He’s pushing the crowd further away from it. But look. You see bands of faithful, committed disciples at the foot of a rough hewn cross. You join them there and look up at your Savior. It was worth the effort to swim through the crowd and see through the devil at God’s answer. He is hanging there for that enormous crowd, to help them escape the clutches and curse of darkness. He offers light, love, grace, goodness, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and life. Contrast this with the carnage you have just sifted through.
Now, go back through that crowd and find someone else who needs Him, someone who realizes that for all the sin, evil, suffering, and problems they will not find the answers in that crowd. They certainly will not find it in the one who’s behind that crowd, inciting and inflaming it. Get them through the crowd to the cross (Mat. 7:13-14). Each one liberated from the crowd will be eternally grateful!
Interestingly, Paul says, “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus, as a faithful Jew, had observed the passover throughout His public ministry (John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55), but He knew that the one recorded in Matthew 26 would be different. He told His disciples, “You know that after two days, the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion” (2). On that Passover, He would be sacrificed for us. Jesus of Nazareth, an unblemished (1 Peter 1:18) male (Mark 8:31; 9:31), was killed (Acts 2:23). His blood is applied (Romans 3:25; 5:9; Ephesians 2:13; Hebrews 9:22; 10:19; 12:24; 13:20; Revelation 1:5; 5:9) to the obedient (Hebrews 5:8-9) and is the difference in spiritual life and death (John 6:53-54). As we do every Sunday, this Sunday, which the world recognizes as Easter, we will commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus as part of our weekly worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).
Jesus was arrested on Thursday, crucified on Friday, lay buried all day Saturday, and arose on Sunday. Today, New Testament Christians commemorate this sacrifice every Sunday. The unleavened bread represents His body, and the fruit of the vine represents His blood. The God of perfect foreknowledge made these “emblems” part of the Passover feast which Israel celebrated the night they left Egypt, and it predated the first covenant (Exodus 20). The physical passover lamb sacrificed by Israel had significance to them in their generation and it was to be handed down to their descendants. But, God was drawing a picture that night that would be completed the moment His Son said “It is finished,” bowed His head, and gave up His spirit (John 19:30). We celebrate and rejoice because He died, was buried, and rose again! May we never let this sacrifice lose its significance to our past, present, and future.
It was September 24, 1869. The Civll War was barely an excruciating national memory and the nation was rebuilding. That specific day was a Friday, the day a cruel scheme by two Wall Street investors was discovered and led to an implosion of the Stock Market. It was referred to as “Black Friday.” The tie of this term to the Christmas shopping season is also surprising. In the 1950s, the Philadelphia police department used the phrase to describe the mayhem brought by the combination of suburban shoppers, tourists, attendees of the Army-Navy football game, and increased shoplifting in stores. They would have to work extra-long shifts this day after Thanksgiving. It was a derogatory term until relatively recently, when retailers in the late 1980s co-opted the expression to depict the day as the day retailers were trying to take their businesses from the “red” to the “black.” This meant bargains for shoppers, the best day to get out and shop and spend. While the advent of online shopping and retail promotions have created new and additional days of holiday shopping deals, “Black Friday” still symbolizes the happy time of “the most wonderful time of the year” (information from Sarah Pruitt, History Channel).
For the Christian, black Friday was the day darkness fell over the whole land of Palestine around 30 A.D. (Mat. 27:45). It had to take place to save humanity who were sitting in the darkness of sin (Mat. 4:16) facing the grim prospect of eternal, outer darkness (Mat. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). It was a horrible day. It was a day of seeming loss, with Jesus’ followers sensing total defeat. Jesus was undergoing six hours of horrific torture before succumbing to death. Satan seemed victorious. But God, according to His eternal, humbling, and essential plan, took that day of darkness and defeat and used it to bring the only profit that ultimately matters. It was actually a day of triumph (Col. 2:15). It became a day of victory for us (1 John 5:4). What turned that day from sorrow to joy was the Sunday that followed that Friday. That Friday death was God’s gift to the whole world, and it profits anyone who responds to it by obedient faith (Rom. 6).
This Sunday (and every Sunday), we get to celebrate this gift and what it means to us when we take the Lord’s Supper. We think back on those dark events, thank God for what they mean to us now, and look ahead with hope and assurance to what it means for our eternal destiny. It was a day of defeat, but God transformed it into the day of victory!
I respectfully wade into Kentucky’s most hallowed sport (basketball) because of information passed along by some diehard Wildcat fans in the eastern part of the state. A brother shared with me that Pat Summitt almost became the university’s women’s basketball coach, but they refused to pay her moving expenses–calculated at about $200. Turns out, it was 1976 and the 24-year-old future Hall-of-fame women’s basketball coach was approached by the athletic brass from Lexington about her becoming their head coach. She was making $8900 at Tennessee, and Kentucky offered her $9000. She didn’t feel she could afford to move for a mere $100, so she asked for the extra expenses. Apparently, they refused and the rest is history. By the time she died (prematurely) at the age of 64 in 2016, Summitt was the winningest head coach in NCAA women’s basketball history with 1098 wins and eight national championships (via npr.org, kentuckysportsradio.com, and sbnation.com).
Can you imagine the way that conversation may have gone, with someone in authority (who obviously, forever wished to remain unnamed) vetoing the offer because he didn’t want Kentucky paying those exorbitant moving expenses? Who knows? It may have been unanimous or perhaps unilateral, but someone changed the course of women’s college basketball history for what in 2019 dollars is $901.79.
Do we ever suffer from the same kind of shortsightedness, as individuals and as churches? Have we ever said “no” to something because we were unwilling to count the cost? The matter may have involved the stewardship of money and material resources and the amount may have been proportionately bigger than $901.79, yet still discounted the aid of the One who owns it all. Have we ever failed to dare and do the very mission the Lord has us here to do because we counted the cost and felt it was more than we were willing to pay? Some will have never obeyed the gospel for this reason (Luke 9:57-62). Some will have never shared the gospel with a dear friend or family member for this reason (Matt. 10:37). Some will have never been more involved in the work of the church for this reason (Mark 8:34-36). Some will have never stood up for Christ in their daily lives for this reason (cf. 1 Peter). Some will have never given generously of their livelihood for this reason (2 Cor. 8:1-8). The reason? The cost.
We could focus on what we gain by self-sacrifice and sacrificial service. But let us also focus on what we lose by failing to give ourselves generously for His cause. It could be that our values are distorted and we are measuring the wrong way. Remember the words of Caleb Bradlee:
Count up the joys, and not the pains;
Think not of losses, but of gains;
Keep the clouds back; gaze at the sun;
Thus life will smoothly with you run.
Our gifts are more than all our blows,
And what is best we know God knows;
And He will send His blessings down,
Some veiled; but all will hide a crown.
If we could know the meaning grand
In tears that come by God’s command,
Then sweetly should we take the cross,
And count as gain what seems a loss.
But only let us wait and pray,
Then out of night will come the day;
And pearls long hid from human sight,
Will crown our brows with holy light.
(Via Library of Congress, 1888)
We read it to our sons when they were growing up. We made up our own tune to the song, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” It’s been hard to remember those days in the rocking chair, reading it over and over to them, without getting tearful ever since they weren’t little boys. It turns out that many people can relate. The book’s author, Robert Munsch, reports that it has sold 15,000,000 copies (http://robertmunsch.com/book/love-you-forever). His publisher didn’t want to publish it because it didn’t seem like a traditional children’s book.
If just reading the title gets you choked up with personal memories, you may not want to read the true story behind the book. Munsch says that the song came first:
I made that up after my wife and I had two babies born dead. The song
was my song to my dead babies. For a long time I had it in my head and
I couldn’t even sing it because every time I tried to sing it I cried. It was
very strange having a song in my head that I couldn’t sing (ibid.).
He later built a story around the song, and the rest is history for millions of parents and their children. I imagine Gary, Dale, and Carl would tell you this is their favorite book from childhood. It’s certainly ours.
Isn’t it interesting that such a beautiful, intense love story surrounds something heartbreaking and tragic. Out of pain and sorrow, this incredible, enduring legacy was created. Knowing the backstory only intensifies the power of the words in the book.
Have you ever looked at the story of the cross in that light? Scripture teaches us from beginning to end that God loves us, His children. He cares for us, protects us, and wants us to live with Him forever.
But there is a backstory. In fact, it goes back to eternity. There, the Godhead made a plan to make sure we could live with Him forever. But it would require His Son dying for us in order to make it happen. Discovering that may bring tears to our eyes, but it also melts our hearts. What love! It’s a forever love, one that can make us the best we could ever be.
Here is God’s message throughout Scripture: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer. 31:3). In other words, “I’ve loved you forever and I’ll love you forever.”
Who would answer “no” to that question? Who wants a worse life or a life that never gets better? But the better question is, “How do you get a better life?” Advertisers have so many answers to that, involving their currency or investment tool, their pill, diet, or workout routine, their travel agency or vacation destination, or product for your home, transportation, business, and the like. So many put so much into these promising plans, but still find their life wanting.
In religious matters, there is no room for subjective thought when it comes to what it takes to have a better life. We find ourselves often bobbing in a sea of religious confusion. Many groups claim to be the best religion and point to their ingredients as reasons for such claims. They point to their numeric size, number of programs they have, or how socially active they are. Our religious attitude ought to be one of humility, not boasting of our achievements or comparing ourselves with others (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12). Genesis 4:1-16 points us to the first recorded version where more than one kind of worship was offered to God and how God rated them. But this chapter also paints a picture of two ways of living life.
Cain is mentioned by three Bible writers after Moses writes about him in this chapter. The writer of Hebrews calls Abel’s offering more excellent than his (Heb. 11:4). John calls his works evil and his allegiance “of the wicked one” (1 John 3:12). Jude implies that the way of Cain is the wrong way to go (11). It seems that Genesis four shows us the better ingredients for a better way of living today.
Someone said, “The line of Cain gives us murder, cities, polygamy, musicians, metal workers, and poetry, but not one who walked with God. In fact, Cain’s legacy led to a repeat of his violent ways by a descendant (cf. 4:23). Abel leaves no physical lineage, but he leaves a great spiritual heritage (Heb. 11:4). We each get to choose what kind of life we’ll pursue. It matters which way we decide.
Heather Christensen, a 33 year old music teacher from Spanish Fork, Utah, contributed the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of dozens of band students on October 10, 2009. The bus driver, bringing back the band competition winners from Idaho State University, slumped over in his seat and Christensen left her seat and grabbed the steering wheel in an attempt to keep the bus from crashing. While there were still several injuries, there was only one fatality. The 44 students on board were treated but released from the hospital. The 50 year old driver also survived. Only Christensen, partially ejected in the bus’ rollover, died.
It melted the hearts of an entire community that Heather was willing to lose her life in an attempt to save and rescue everyone on the bus. A gymnasium full of people at American Fork High School honored her at a Sunday night vigil. She was hailed as a true heroine.
The future of 45 people was dramatically changed by Heather’s decision to act. The obvious reaction of these students’ friends and family was to honor her sacrifice. It would be shameful to ignore it!
Jesus Christ deliberately decided, from eternity, to die on a cross in an attempt to save all mankind. His was a completely selfless act, requiring Him to take the place not of one but of all. Tragically, the majority of humanity for whom He offered Himself ignore His sacrifice. It does not move or touch them, and it certainly does not motivate them to do what they should do. Yet, for those of us who have obeyed the gospel and are Christians, we come together–not once–but once every week to commemorate His sacrifice. Each day we live, we live mindful of what He did in our place and for our sins. May our hearts stay soft to this supreme act of heroism!