“I Am the Lord Your God”

Leviticus 19:9-18 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

When God says something directly to his people, he is quite emphatic.  In our relationships with one another, we do what is right for those relationships because the Lord is our God.  Righteousness happens between people because that is the way that the Lord our God is.  Whether we are harvesting, or speaking with one another, or interacting with the deaf, or working with all classes of neighbors, or when we attempt to bear a grudge, we are to be righteous.  Why?

God says it emphatically, clearly, and purposefully: “I am the Lord your God.”

Is this truth working in our lives?  Is this truth working in our local churches?  Is this truth working in our Annual Conference?  Is this truth working in our current denomination, the United Methodist Church?

These questions are for the people of God.  These questions are not for the unchurched. 

Are there happenings in our lives that attempt to refute God’s position in creation?  We are to care for the poor.  We are to honorably carry God’s name with our lives.  We can fear God, even when others do not frighten us.  We can honor our neighbors of all classes.  We can love our neighbors as ourselves.

We seek justice—the kind that honors God and recognizes our neighbors.  We deliver the truth—the kind that honors God and recognizes our neighbors.  We love—the kind that honors God and recognizes our neighbors.

Are the many sides in the United Methodist Church recognizing that the Lord is our God?  Are we doing such by refraining from bending the truth?  Are we loving our enemies?

Lord, you are God.  There is no other god for us.  As we interact and go through the present turmoil in the United Methodist Church, forgive us for not loving our neighbors, especially those who do not believe as we do.  We are to honor you and recognize the dignity of our neighbors.  Guide us to be righteous as you are righteous while we live in these days.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

Scapegoats

By Chuck Griffin

Few Christians think much about the Jewish Day of Atonement, when the ancient Israelites would fast and reflect on their sins as the priests worked to expunge those sins through animal sacrifices.

The season of Lent preceding Easter may be the closest similar experience Christians now have. (Many Jews, of course, still observe the Day of Atonement, or “Yom Kippur,” but without the associated animal sacrifices.) During Lent, and especially Holy Week, we are similarly called to reflect and repent so that we may better appreciate and accept the forgiveness offered to us by Jesus Christ via the cross.

One unusual aspect of the Day of Atonement is recorded in Leviticus 16:20-26. Here, the high priest symbolically placed the people’s sins on a live goat, which was then led into the wilderness and set loose.

This “scapegoat” was one of two goats involved in the ritual. The other goat was sacrificed.

The goats, of course, were a foreshadowing of Christ. Jesus is the one who came as the final sacrifice for our sins. He is the one who bears away our sins forever.

And yet, despite the coming of Christ, people continue to lay the burden of their sins on other creatures. In modern times, we seem to prefer to use people instead of goats.

For example, troubled families often feel better if they can single out one person to label as particularly “bad.” Focus on the scapegoat, and no one has to examine his or her own problems too closely.

Of course, the scapegoat suffers much damage in such a family, particularly if the scapegoat tag is attached in childhood. These people often grow up to be what some call “volunteer victims,” deliberately entering relationships where they wind up the recipients of abuse, the role to which they’ve grown accustomed.

The search for sin is primarily an inward search, and we all have sin from which we should repent. Fortunately, Jesus is big enough and strong enough to bear all our sins away. He’s a very different goat than what we were expecting, though. He’s the Greatest of All Time.

No other scapegoats are needed. In fact, even modern-day scapegoats can find peace through Christ.

Lord, thank you for relieving us of the burden of sin in an eternal way. Help us to surrender more and more of ourselves to you each day. Amen.

Burnt Sacrifice

Psalm 20 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

The best cattle, sheep, and turtle doves were the material for a burnt offering (Leviticus 1).  The unblemished and best male was to be offered by the priests.  The whole of the beast was to be burned, except for the entrails.  Performing this sacrifice was a means of atonement with God.  Nothing of the animal was eaten by the one who offered the burnt sacrifice.  The aroma was said to be pleasing to the Lord.

We now know that Jesus Christ is the one by whom we have atonement.  Jesus sets things right between us and God.  We can only get to God through faith in Jesus Christ.  We are thankful that bulls, rams, and turtle doves are no longer necessary to please God. 

Yet we Christians call upon the Lord and say we have not heard from God.  What are we keeping back in our faith?  Are we keeping the best of who we are from God?  Do we clamp onto our best and rely on our best to get us through troubles in this life?  We may do such activities because we do not want to see our best completely burnt.

Trusting in chariots, horses, stock portfolios, trucks, job titles, or anything else, keeps us from placing our pride in the name of the Lord.  It might be time to give up the things we trust.  As we continue through Lent, our time is being spent learning to trust God.  Maybe all we can do is trust God to protect us.  Then we can be focused on God alone and trusting him.

God, we are still learning that we can trust you.  It is not our belongings, no matter how wonderful they are, that can save us.  It is by trusting Jesus that we rise and stand. May our possessions be as burnt sacrifices as we learn to depend upon you.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

Faith Proven by Works

Hebrews 11:17-19 (NLT)

It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. 


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

As was noted in last Monday’s reflection, Abraham for all intents and purposes had mentally offered his son to God before he attempted the physical act. Because of his demonstrated faith, God later reiterated his plans to bless Abraham and give him descendants beyond number (Genesis 22:16-18). 

Abraham not only believed God, he clearly demonstrated through his willingness to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering that he was prepared to prove his faith through his actions. As James later wrote, faith without works is no faith. James cited the example of Abraham’s offering of his son Isaac on the altar as faith and action working together.

According to James, Abraham’s “actions made his faith complete.” (James 2:17, 21-22.) God was never interested in Abraham offering his son as a sacrifice and later gave the Israelites strict instructions through Moses that anyone who offered their children as a sacrifice to the pagan god Molech should be put to death. (Leviticus 20:1-5.)

In what ways are you putting your faith in the Lord into action? Can people see through my actions that I have faith in God and believe his promises? Even though God does not require us to sacrifice our children as burnt offerings, he freely gave his only begotten Son as atoning sacrifice for our sins. All that he asks is that we offer ourselves to him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2) by demonstrating unwavering faith through our actions. As Scripture tells us, “It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6). 

Just as God tested Abraham to be sure that his faith was real, God is going to test our faith in the crucible and furnace of affliction. It is not a question of IF but WHEN. We can be sure that God is not going to demand that we sacrifice our children as a burnt offering to him. God does not delight in our offerings as much as in our obedience. But God will test our faith to be sure that we are truly on his side. 

I do not know how God will test my faith or how your faith will be tested. It will come through our trials and tribulations, but when we abide in Jesus regardless of whatever comes our way, we will definitely be able to pass the testing of our faith like Abraham and Job and many others before us have done. It is important to remember that it is through our actions in the face of travails that we demonstrate the vitality of our faith. 

The only way to be sure that our faith will not fail is to keep our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus became the pioneer and perfecter of our faith because he learned obedience through his own temptation and looked beyond the pain of the cross to the joy that awaited him.

Almighty and ever living God, we thank you for your love for us demonstrated through the sacrifice of your beloved Son Jesus Christ. Help us to persevere when our faith is tested by looking unto Jesus who alone is the author and finisher of our faith. Let us follow his perfect example as we live out our faith one day at a time. By abiding in Jesus, we can overcome our trials and tribulations and bring God glory. Keep us faithful to the end in the power of your Holy Spirit. Thank you, Jesus, for your nearness to us at all times. Accept our humble prayers offered in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.