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.

Children of the Aramean

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

By Chuck Griffin

When we think of Old Testament texts on giving, our minds often go to the tithe, the giving of 10 percent of the harvest or income to support what would eventually become the work of the temple, work that included care for the poor. Today’s Deuteronomy text really doesn’t take us into the concept of the tithe, however.

What we hear is a recitation, a declaration of what God had done to help his chosen people. From a practical perspective, the offering brought to the altar was a mere token, but theologically it was huge. The head of a family was acknowledging that all he had truly came from God.

I believe in hard work. I believe in the idea that if we are to succeed in life, there is a need to use our bodies and minds to the best of our abilities.

But at the same time, as people who acknowledge we were made by God and saved from sinful brokenness by God, we have to be the first to say we are dependent on God.

If we think about it, we do owe everything to God, even if we’ve done all we can to succeed. If we’re intelligent enough to make the right choices, it’s because God made us so. If we have been able to succeed through hard physical labor, it is because God at some point graced us with healthy bodies.

And we can never forget that there is at least some randomness in how well we do or don’t do in life. If we’re not careful, we will simply stumble into success and then start thinking we are brilliant.

A good Jew acknowledged these truths with his recitation and offering. We do much the same when we declare ourselves followers of Christ—for example, if we recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship. We declare God Creator. We then retell the story of Christ’s life, sacrifice and resurrection, following that with the story of God continuing to work in the world up to this very day through the Holy Spirit.

That true understanding—that perspective regarding who God is and who we are—should shape every nook and cranny of our lives. For many, that deepest, hardest to reach cranny is where we store our attitude about income and possessions.

As I said before, this text isn’t really about tithing. Tithing was a powerful Old Testament concept, of course, but a text like we have today shows us that tithing was just a beginning point, a rule designed to lead a person to a right way of relating to God through our income and possessions.

John Wesley preached that God provides for the roof over our heads, food, and other basic needs, allowing us to ensure the well-being of our families and even a business we may operate. Beyond those provisions, everything we are given counts as riches, and they have been given to us to use “to the glory of God.” Often, this means using our riches to help those who are less blessed materially, playing a role in God’s provision for people’s basic needs.

Even for a tither, this is a concept that requires thought. It forces a reassessment of every decision we make regarding how we handle our income and possessions, simply because we learn to say, “It’s not really mine, anyway.”

If you find this idea a little daunting, be encouraged. Look back to today’s verses; notice how our little scene at the altar closes. There is celebration in the house of God, the kind of joy to be shared even with the dependent and disenfranchised people among us.

I wonder what we miss when we fail to embrace such a powerful attitude about income and possessions.

Lord, give us the spiritual strength to turn every aspect of our lives over to you, and may the celebration that follows be most rewarding. Amen.

Like a Child

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 18:1-5

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.”


To see how we fit into the Kingdom of Heaven, it helps to look to our earliest days.

The above verses from Matthew have some important context. Just prior, Jesus and his disciples have been discussing worldly power, the temple and taxes. (A fish ends up covering what Jesus and Peter owe.)

The disciples’ question regarding who is greatest in Jesus’ promised kingdom is similar to questions they ask elsewhere in the gospels: Who will sit nearest Jesus when he is on his throne? And what kind of power will we have?

Jesus’ response forces any thoughtful reader to consider what we had as very small children, and what we have lost as we have grown.

Some words we can meditate upon: Trust. Dependence. Simplicity. Wonder. Innocence.

As we grow older, we find ourselves surrendering such notions to survive. Power structures are in place wherever we go, and they will consume us if we don’t learn to defend ourselves, gain some control, master the system’s complexity, and ideally, learn to run the part of it affecting us.

Blessed are those who don’t have to learn these hard lessons too early in life.

It’s pretty clear to me that Jesus understood the compromises we have to make in the here and now. Sin remains in the world, and it is very dangerous, leading to terrible events that consume even the most innocent of children.

Earlier in Matthew, in the 10th chapter, Jesus said, “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.”

This is a delicate balance for a Christian to maintain. We have to learn to navigate the world, but at the same time, we want to retain an adult version of what we had as small children.

Assuming we were blessed with good parenting, our feelings of trust and dependence flowed toward those who raised us. As adults, we can sense something similar in our relationship with God.

Knowing God should restore our sense of wonder, too. If we call him Creator, an examination of his creation should be enough to boggle any mind. And through Jesus Christ, we even can regain innocence, trusting that Christ on the cross cleanses us of our sins.

There also is much to anticipate. When the kingdom completely arrives—when we stand before God, seeing our savior, with the broken world behind us—I expect our childlike states will be fully restored.

Unlike children, we will comprehend everything, but innocence will remain, and God will call us great.

Lord, in the midst of our strategizing and surviving, may we be humble, seeking to live as much as possible in your kingdom now. May our way of living make the kingdom more real to us and those around us. Amen.