Saturday, 5 July 2014

A Living Sacrifice

Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:28)
The death of Jesus marked the end of all sacrifices, except one: the thank offering. That we owe.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will ishis good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
"All to Jesus I surrender..." I've sung that in church and meant it with my whole, unknowing heart. Most of us are aware that sacrifice means loss, surrender, and I thought I was ready for that.

I used to imagine myself as an Israelite, bringing my own little lamb to be offered. As I handed over precious parts of my life to God, I experienced the loss, the tearing involved in letting go, and I imagined that as the end of the process. It seemed hard enough. It is no simple thing to give what the heart has called its own. What I did not know to expect when I offered, with burning heart, all to Jesus, was the bloody, messy work of offering the sacrifice. I thought I could bring my heart's lamb and leave the slaughter and the bloody handling to the temple workers.

A sacrifice is a gory, brutal thing. Our God, Father though he is, does not spare us the slaughtering, the tearing of skin from flesh, the cutting, the washing - the handling of our broken, bloodied offerings. It is what he asks because it is what he gives.
The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.
“ ‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord. You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you. You are to slaughter the young bull before the Lord, and then Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting. You are to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces. The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Leviticus 1:1-9)
Again and again, this violence. The loud bleating and the quiet bleeding. For the worshipper, all is disarray and ugly, broken pieces. But to God, there is " aroma pleasing to the Lord".

Oh, to see things as he sees them! To be able to look past the blood and the brokenness and see something pleasing! When the tearing and the mess go on and on, and my heart has bled out all its strength, and I am the one laying broken on the altar, and yet more remains to be done to complete the offering, then I am hard pressed to feel that there is in this any honour for my God. How can glory come from this aching, awful mess? The purpose of the sacrifice escapes me, and though dimly I know it is necessary - and I can accept the loss - the work of offering it is more than I had reckoned on.
"Moreover the Philistines had yet war again with Israel; and David went down, and his servants with him, and fought against the Philistines: and David waxed faint."—II Sam. 21:15.
As it is recorded that David, in the heat of battle, waxed faint, so may it be written of all servants of the Lord.
Fits of depression come over the most of us. Cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.
There may be here and there men of iron to whom wear and tear work no perceptible detriment, but surely the rust frets even these; and as for ordinary men, the Lord knows and makes them to know that they are but dust. (Charles Spurgeon, When a Preacher is Downcast)
I am weary and ashamed, and the tedium of living an offering overwhelms me. Especially, it is hard to imagine how God can be glorified in the turmoil. I feel that there is something wrong in it. Where are the priests, the professionals? Shouldn't I, after all, have left this to them? Surely they could do a better job than I, when I am all awkward reluctance and and ill-timed, shaking fear!

But if he does not explain, at least God's instruction is clear. He did not spare his son, and he does not spare us, his children. And in this long darkness, I have come to see two sides of a paradox: my faith is far weaker and more easily shaken than I used to think, and, after all, I trust God far more deeply than I ever imagined I could. As I am torn apart, I have the strange sense that something else, yet unknown even to me, is coming together.
These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:7)
I will trust in the love of God my Father. To him belong the chaos of the bleating and the bleeding, and the glory of the flame, and the aroma of the rising smoke. To him I will lift up my pleading and my worship, both.
Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life. (Psalm 143:7-8)
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.
We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name. (Psalm 33:18-20)

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