Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Giving God Our Leftovers

So the Greeks tell a tale of a king named Lycaon (they actually tell about 20 variations of this story, but here is the one I'm going with), who had a family with such a reputation that Zeus had to come down and check it out. When Lycaon got news that Zeus would be joining him for dinner he went through great pains in planning dinner, after all, what do you feed a god? He finally settled on cooking up one of his servants and serving this to Zeus. When Zeus realized what he was being served, he was so angry that he turned Lycaon into the worlds first werewolf.

So what does that crazy story have to do with anything? Well, none of us would cook up another human if we were preparing a meal for the one true God, but I wonder, what do we serve Him? Oh, of course none of us would have God over for dinner and say, "hey, there's some leftover pizza in the fridge, help yourself," but what do our actions say? In my life, what am I giving God? Am I giving Him the best, or the leftovers?

I found Francis Chan's Crazy Love to be very inspiring. In one chapter, Serving Leftovers to a Holy God, he talked about this idea. God not only deserves our best, He demands it! Don't believe me? Ask Cain, he can tell you all about what God will and will not accept. But we are so blessed that we often forget the God who blesses us, or simply give to Him out of a sense of guilt or obligation. God does not want your afterthoughts, He does not want your leftovers (let's be honest, who gets excited at the prospects of leftovers?). God made this clear to His people in the days after the Babylonian exile. "You offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 1:8).

But we would never do this, right? We never let bills, busy schedules, forgetfulness, sports, family, or anything else get in the way of giving God the service He deserves, do we? We may not be perfect, but we are doing something, that's got to count, right? "Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand." (Mal 1:10)... maybe not. It sounds like God is saying He would rather have no service than poor service.

Maybe the reason why our service is lacking is because our understanding is lacking. In sociology, Lawrence Kohlberg introduced three stages of moral development:
1. The Pre-conventional Stage. In this stage we know that there are something we should and should not do. We avoid the things we should not do because we do not want to be punished, we do the things we should do because we want to be rewarded. This is the lowest stage of development, yet this is where most Christians are in their understanding and relationship with God. Most of us converted out of fear of hell and continue out of a desire for heaven; it's a start, but no place to stay.
2. The Conventional Stage. In this stage we have grown to understand that we should do certain things because they are expected of us, and because they are important to those who expect them of us. We avoid the things we are expected not to do for the same reason. As Christians this is when we learn that it is about more than heaven or hell, it is about giving God what He asks because He expects and deserves it, and we do not want to hurt and disappoint God by failing.
3. The Post-conventional Stage. In this stage we realize that we obey laws and norms because they benefit the world at large, and disobeying them harms others and is understandably wrong. Few Christians reach this point, the point where your name can replace love in 1 Cor. 13:4-8, because you love others because it helps them and glorifies God. You serve God because it glorifies Him and you realize that your purpose is to glorify Him. You learn to genuinely hate sin because it harms you, others, and your God, and nothing could be farther from your desires than hurting God or those He so loves.

Perhaps we fail to serve Him properly because we have forgotten who He is, and what He has done. We forget that God made the universe, with all its countless galaxies.

We forget that God made one celled organisms, too small to see with the naked eye, but just as complex as a galaxy.

We forget that Christ has the right to demand anything from us, because He gave up everything for us.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
Are you willing to say to God "everything I have is Yours, my possessions, my will, my life, my all, I put everything in Your hands."

As Christians we must give of ourselves until all that can be seen in us is Christ. That is the kind of service, the kind of sacrifice that God deserves. Don't give God your leftovers, give Him your all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

From the Mouth of Babes

I had one of those very proud daddy moments the other day. My oldest daughter brought home a social studies test with a 100% on it (which is not rare), and my beautiful wife said, "I think you should take a look at this." I glanced, saw the grade and told my sweetheart what a good job she did, but my wife said,"No, I mean you need to read this, you would really appreciate it." Thank God for godly wives like mine, because this was one of the greatest things I ever read. 

If you were going to present a law to be passed please (1) tell me what the law would be and (2) why you would want it to be passed.

(my daughter's answer)  
A law that I would like to be passed is no war. I want that to be a law because people wouldn't die in sneak attacks. I would also like that law to be passed because there would probably be more children with parents. Also there probably wouldn't be as many people dieing. Another reason I would like that law to be passed is because children's dads or moms or both wouldn't leave them to go off to war. Another reason is kids wouldn't be waken up by big bomb explosions. Another reason is everyone would be treated fairly and have equal rights like the United States if they were not fighting each other. That is why I would like this law to be passed.

Not only is this a beautifully thoughtful answer, but it means even more to me. My daughter at age 9 has expressed what it took me until very recently to fully realize. 

You see, I have always know that I could never go to war, that I could never commit myself to a cause that would mean killing another person. I spent years questioning why I did not have this deeply patriotic feeling of obligation to fight and die for my country. Killing in the name of patriotism, liberty, democracy, justice, freedom, or even God never justified killing. 

Not long ago, my friend and I were talking about my outlook on war, and he told me about many Gospel preachers in the time of the civil war who wrote about having the same feeling, and how they were unable to reconcile what they read in the Scripture with what they heard men on both sides defending their cause with. 

I was floored when my friend then joined a branch of the military. I reminded him of how I felt, but told him I respected him. I respected him the way I respected my other friends who "joined the cause." I appreciated their devotion and the ends they wanted to bring, even though I knew that I was at odds with the means. I respected the long line of soldiers in my bloodline. Cousins in the army, grandfathers in the national guard and navy, great-grandfather in the civil war, etc. But it was different this time.

This friend had been in front of or beside me through every step of my spiritual growth since I was 18. We were always looking at the same Scriptures, debating the same issues, coming to better understand the same concepts. This was the first time I felt we were divided. But that's the way it is, you don't always see things the same way, and it is ok. It is part of being an individual, it rarely makes one person closer to or further from God. So I continued on my path and he on his. I came to see more and more clearly that war was not a part of God's plan for Christians. Little did I know that my friend was on the same track.

Recently, this same friend introduced me to a group of Christians who feel the same way. People who, through study of Jesus' teachings came to see that, as Paul put it "God has called you to peace" (Col. 3:15). The message we bring is the "Gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15), Jesus said pray for and love your enemies (Matt. 5:38-48). Paul said do not repay the evil of your enemies, but feed them, give them a drink, be good to them (Rom. 12:17-21). This Church of Christ Peace Fellowship embraced the fact that Jesus, the apostles, and all the New Testament writers have nothing positive to say about war. Jesus may have said that taxes belong to Caesar but He also said that His servants would fight if His kingdom was of this world, but it is not (John 18:36).

This took me years to understand, and I have shared this message with those who would listen, but not with my daughter. Why? I don't know. We are still working on more basic Bible concepts I guess. Without my help, she came to the same conclusion. What brought her to it? Her love for others. One of her friends had a visit from her dad who is in the army. She cried when he dad left and shared with my daughter how much it hurt to worry about weather or not her father would die in some foreign country and never see her again.

Here is the funny thing. Soldiers came to John the Baptist to be baptized, you know what he told them? "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages" (Luke 3:14). Why did he not say don't go to war? I believe that it is because he did not want to say it was a damnable sin to go to war, and I am not saying that either. He set them on the path of righteousness, he directed them to Christ. Christ taught love as our defining mark (John 13:35), and love eventually teaches us that peace is to be honored above war. War may be a way to bring about some good things, but it is not the only way, it is not the best way, and it brings many bad things along the way.

I have heard a thousand prayers offered up for those dying to buy our freedom, but brave men and women who died for a belief did not buy my freedom. Christ died for my sins, He freed me from sins (1 Cor. 15:3), He freed me for freedom sake (Gal. 5:1), and God rules in the kingdoms of men. So, spiritual, physical, and judicial freedom comes form Christ. It's time we thanked Him, It's time we were grateful enough for His sacrifice to take a look at what He thinks and feels about war, peace, and love. Maybe we should have the pure heart of a child, and love our fellow man enough to give peace a chance. 

Call me a hippie if you want, that's fine. But remember, I love our troops more than you or they will ever know, I love the Al-Qaeda, I love the Viet Cong, I love the African and South American drug lords, and I love each and every one of the people that all of these people hurt, mistreat, and kill. Most of all I love the bearded, sandal-wearing, peace preaching, sinner loving, big hearted, savior of us all, and I just want to be in His kingdom.

I'll chose a Dove over and Eagle any day.