Remembrances

The following stories are not pretty, they are stark and full of pain. They are stories that I haven’t thought of in a very long time and, as I write, I’m not sure I ever did think of them even when fresh. But for the last two weeks they have played heavily upon my thoughts, over and over again.

The first:

I knew this guy named Dan. Dan was married to Ann. Ann and Dan had a couple of kids. Dan was a guitar player, Ann a singer. Dan and Ann’s marriage fails, she takes the kids and moves. Another friend Bob, another guitar player, is the owner of the local pro music store. Bob and Ann get married and have a couple kids. Ann and Bob’s marriage hits the rocks and Ann takes all the kids and moves into her parents’ house. Bob is filled with pain. He goes over to his in-laws to speak to Ann and the kids. But instead of using his words Bob lets an M-1 carbine do his talking for him. By the end of the soliloquy Ann, Dan’s 2 kids, and Bob are all laying dead on the floor. Ann and Bob’s youngest was asleep in her crib and their older child was out with the grandparents. I was pall bearer. I never was able to speak comforting words to Dan, just sit shiva with him.

The second:

Knew this girl, can’t remember her name, met her in a bar in the early ’80s. She had a couple of kids, three I think all pretty young. The stresses and pressures of the world and life as a single mom living in the ghetto got to her. She sought comfort and solace in bars, dope, and meaningless relationships. These things cannot comfort for long. One winter night after the children had gone to bed the despair became so overwhelming that she blew out the pilot lights and turned on the stove. She left the house walked for a while. She ended-up at the police station walked in and confessed what she had done. The police rushed to the apartment in the ghetto, but were too late. I read the account in the paper and couldn’t connect the name with the tragedy. A couple days later I was talking to another girl in a bar, one I had known from before, can’t recall her name either. Well it was the first girl’s best friend who let me know that I knew the girl from the newspaper story.

I actually sat in judgment of this young woman for whom the pressures of life were too much. Her friend tried to get me to empathize, but….

The third:

When I was 10 or 12 my mom had a friend, Joy. Joy and my mom worked together. Joy was married to some misogynist jerk. Joy’s husband was quite abusive to her and their kids, a couple girls and a boy. This clown would sit with a .22 while drunk and shoot flies. He tried to run Joy down in the parking lot of the Montgomery Wards she and my mom worked at. This abusive piece-o-s#$& was raping the kids, all of them the girls and the boy. One night he laid on the couch with a loaded shotgun and swore he was going to shoot the kids when they got up in the morning. He nodded a little, as drunks are prone to do. Joy took the shotgun from him, he turned a little and looked at her as she pulled the trigger. She very calmly walked to the neighbors, told them what she had just done, asked to use the phone and called my mom, then the police. When news got ‘round you could hear the cheering the next town over. Joy spent a couple months in jail until her trial. “Well, he was human,” was all the States Attorney could say. The jury acquitted Joy.

Do I need to try to look for the reasons that the dead guy would be like he was and not judge him so harshly?

This brings to mind the song What It’s Like by Everlast on his Whitey Ford Sings the Blues:

“What It’s Like”

We’ve all seen the man at the liquor store beggin’ for your change
The hair on his face is dirty, dreadlocked and full of mange
He ask the man for what he could spare with shame in his eyes
Get a job you fuckin’ slob’s all he replied

[CHORUS]
God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes
‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to sing the blues
Then you really might know what it’s like [x4]

Mary got pregnant from a kid named Tom who said he was in love
He said don’t worry about a thing baby doll I’m the man you’ve been dreamin’ of
But three months later he said he won’t date her or return her call
And she sweared god damn if I find that man I’m cuttin’ off his balls
And then she heads for the clinic and she gets some static walkin’ through the doors
They call her a killer, and they call her a sinner, and they call her a whore

[CHORUS]
God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes
‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to have to choose
Then you really might know what it’s like [x4]

I’ve seen a rich man beg
I’ve seen a good man sin
I’ve seen a tough man cry
I’ve seen a loser win
And a sad man grin
I heard an honest man lie
I’ve seen the good side of bad
And the down side of up
And everything between
I licked the silver spoon
Drank from the golden cup
Smoked the finest green
I stroked the fattest dimes at least a couple of times
Before I broke their heart
You know where it ends
Yo, it usually depends on where you start

I knew this kid named Max
He used to get fat stacks out on the corner with drugs
He liked to hang out late at night
Liked to get shit faced
And keep pace with thugs
Until late one night there was a big gun fight
Max lost his head
He pulled out his chrome .45
Talked some shit
And wound up dead
Now his wife and his kids are caught in the midst of all of his pain
You know it crumbles that way
At least that’s what they say when you play the game

[CHORUS]
God forbid you ever had to wake up to hear the news
‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to have to lose
Then you really might know what it’s like [x3]

To have to lose…

I think that this is how Jesus looks at us. He came and walked a mile in our shoes. I think I need to try to do that too, it is what I would like others to do for me. Maybe this is why these stories keep playing in my mind, maybe it’s time I tried to step into the shoes of each of the characters, maybe it’s time I tried to step in the shoes and walk a mile in the next person.

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The Nature of Love: a Theology Reviewed

The Nature of Love: A Theology

Thomas Jay Oord

Chalice Press, St. Louis, MO

2010

Review by Paul DeBaufer

The Nature of Love is a theology book. We learn very early on that the majority of theologians have made love a secondary or tertiary theme in their theologies. Yet love plays a central role in the life, words, teaching, and ministry of Jesus Christ. Why should this be? Because 1 John 4:8 & 16 tell us “God is love”, so why is love put on the back burner in theology? Some have tried to make love central to their theology but that has been problematic. One of the biggest obstacles is that love seems to mean so many different things. There are no less than three words in Greek that are translated love in English. The Greek words are not used consistently in the Bible. So while Biblically love is center stage theologies have sent it into the wings.

This is a book about love. No it is not a romance. It is about love, love as found in the Bible. We learn that there are many senses of “love” in the Bible. Several words are translated into the English “love”. Dr. Oord searches out all of these uses of love and finds that even though there are many meanings there is a thread of basic meaning which connects them all ties them all together so that it is fair usage for the translators to use the single word, “love” to fill in for the several in the original languages. The definition Oord proffers is Love is to act intentionally in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others to promote overall well being. This is the uniting theme underlying love in the Biblical sense.

In the introduction we learned that the major theologians through the ages did not give love the primary role and consideration that it rightfully should have. However, theologies of love have been put forward. We all, from reading the Bible, and especially the New Testament, can see that love is central, that love is at least a part of God’s nature. So why then has love, which plays a central role in the biblical narrative, been neglected by so many theologians and theologies? Yet, love remains ignored. Oord demonstrates love’s primacy in the Bible. He then goes on to offer a reason that the theologians have all but ignored it: love is a slippery word, amorphous in that we don’t all mean the same thing when we use “love”. Love is a word that many feel they know the definition of yet no one really has articulated a good solid definition. Contrary to what Hollywood and the romance novel industry would have us believe love is not a feeling so much as a chosen action.

In the next two chapters Dr. Oord explores the love theologies of two theologians. Anders Nygren wrote of love, God’s love in the mid 20th century. Augustine of Hippo wrote of love in the late 4th early 5th centuries. The theology of Nygren has greatly influenced how we perceive the Greek word agape. Nygren made the claim that agape is God’s perfect love. Oord tells us that Nygren’s notion is unsatisfying because the biblical witness is inconsistent in its use of agape. Further, Nygren’s theology disregards the Old Testament, and even some of the New Testament because they do not fit with the proposition put forward. Augustine, according to The Nature of Love, didn’t believe God loves creatures. Again this is unsatisfying because the actions of God toward creatures fit the definition Oord puts forward. In this chapters we again definitions for agape, philia, and eros (which is never used in the New Testament per se, yet it is described.) Each of these definitions have at its root the definition of love in general, where they differ is in object and orientation.

In the final chapter Dr. Oord introduces us to his theology of love Essential Kenosis. For Oord God is non-coercive yet highly persuasive. Love is God’s nature. Oord defines kenosis as self-giving. Essential Kenosis says that God does not just voluntarily give Himself, kenosis is part of His nature, an aspect of love. This notion has implications for all of the omni- statements we tend to hold so dear. While the omni- statements have their origin in the Hellenization of Christianity and can be traced to neoplatonic philosophies, Oord doesn’t discard them, just modifies them to fit the biblical witness. Essential Kenosis has implications for creation. But most importantly Essential Kenosis satisfactorily deals with the problem of evil in the world. A loving God who can yet does nothing about true evil seems contradictory. While Essential Kenosis suggests that because God loves perfectly He cannot override the freedom He has given creation, itself an act of love. God can do all that is doable, knows all that is knowable. What is doable and knowable are not exhaustive to our minds. We can imagine the impossible and the unknowable.

I like Essential Kenosis as a theology. I, personally, believe that it fits the biblical narrative better than the other theologies of love. I find Essential Kenosis satisfying. Since becoming a Christian five years ago I have been presented with many ideas and traditions which, for me, do not fit with what I read in the Bible. Essential Kenosis as presented in The Nature of Love: a Theology fits what I have come to in my studies. But I came to the Bible with none of the traditional pre-conceived ideas which I needed to defend. This book may well be uncomfortable for many as Oord challenges many dearly held traditional concepts. The Nature of Love is readily accessible for the casual reader, no need to be a scholar to understand what Oord is saying. However, I think even scholars will enjoy this book.

Authentic Sacrificial Praise: Obedience, Submission, & Love

Authentic Sacrificial Praise:

Obedience, Submission, & Love

Last week we looked at what is meant by, “…let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God.” We examined just what true praise and worship are. We saw that when relationships are broken, when we look to our own interests while neglecting the poor, when we oppress our workers, let people sit alone in hospitals and prisons and don’t do anything to give them comfort then come and try to offer praise and worship to God He turns a deaf ear. We found that God isn’t looking for us to drag our tired selves out of bed and to the church on Sundays to sing songs and listen to a message and call that worship. God looks for lives lived for Him. Lives living out the two greatest commandments: Love of God and Love of everybody else, to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. This is the sacrificial praise God is wanting from us, praise that is pleasing to Him: to put away self and love others. To, as Paul says, to humble ourselves and think more highly of others than ourselves.

Further we examined how love is used to mean different things throughout the Bible, but despite all of the different meanings and contexts that there is a core meaning that links all of these diverse meanings and that has been proposed by Tom Oord and is: Love is to act intentionally in response to God and others to promote overall well being. When we respond to the love that God offers in any moment with love we have achieved perfection in that moment. We also explored how this love response is the core notion of holiness/entire sanctification. Just a reminder that it is LOVE that is the sacrificial praise which God finds pleasing and acceptable.

Don’t get me wrong, God wants us to get up and gather together to offer songs of praise, to listen to inspired sermons, and He wants us to gather for fellowship. But, I believe that He wants us to gather as the culmination of going into the world to demonstrate His love to everyone. When we come together it should be with a right heart, a heart that offered authentic sacrificial praise all week in all aspects of our lives.

But there is another aspect of Sacrificial Praise that we find in verse 17 of Hebrews chapter 13. Here we read: Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you.

Let me qualify; the “leaders” spoken of in this passage are our spiritual leaders and not political leaders.

Who are leaders? How do we know who they are? Does a title make a leader? No! I do not believe so. I think that there are many people who fancy themselves leaders and have the title who are nothing more than managers.

You are probably sitting there asking, “Is there a difference?” I suggest that there is a very big difference. I have read that managers control, maintain the status quo, but that leaders blaze new ground.

In the very first sermon ever given in the Church of the Nazarene Dr. J. P. Widney said, “Notice that Christ does not say: “Accept the creed which I frame; observe the church forms or rituals I devise; join the church which I have found.” He only said, “Follow Me.” It is as though he had said, “Come, live my life with me.”

“Come follow me,” the words of a leader. “Come join my life!” These are words that inspire people to follow. They are not controlling, not demanding, not subjugating.

Let us look at some Biblical instances. In Matthew: 4:18-22  18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus gently taps us on the shoulder and softly beckons, “Come, follow me.” And we can do as these apostles did immediately drop everything and go with Him. Or we can go as I did for so very long, ignore him.

This is not how the Pharisees, scribes, or the Roman governors got people to listen to them. No they were managers. They succeeded by inspiring fear. The eventually killed Jesus, the stoned and imprisoned Paul. The demand subjugation, demand, demand, demand. Could you imagine how it would’ve gone over with them to decline their requests? I would imagine none too well, they Killed Jesus for less, stoned Paul for less. Whereas Jesus inspires. Inspires love and respect: still in Matthew 7:28-29  Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” Jesus led and taught NOT as the religious authorities of his day. He inspired people.

We find crowds flocking to Jesus. A leader is only a leader when people are inspired to follow. And follow Jesus they did. Matthew 8:18, “Jesus saw great crowds around him….”

Let’s look at a couple people who were inspired to follow Jesus. In Matthew 8:19-22 we read of one, 19A scribe then approached and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ 20And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’” Jesus answer is kind of cryptic. Roger Hahn of Nazarene Theological Seminary says, ” Jesus’ reply points out that foxes have lairs and birds of the air have nests, but there is no promise of a place to stay if we follow Christ.”

Jesus allows this man to make an informed choice as to whether or not to follow. His decision is not recorded. Did he follow Jesus or walk away like the next example.

Matthew 19:16-26, “Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ 17And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ 18He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 20The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these;* what do I still lack?’ 21Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money* to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”

We know that this rich man chose his riches over following, entering into the Life of Jesus. In none of these examples did Jesus demand anyone follow Him. He offered the disciples, so inspired were they that they dropped what they were doing and left with Him. The others we read about were so inspired by this leader that they asked if they could follow. One we know walked away, walked away sad (however, I believe Jesus tapped on his shoulder and beckoned, “Follow me,” to this man again and again. I can only hope that he eventually began to follow.) In these last two cases Jesus fully informs them so that they can make a choice. There is not control, no manipulation. Jesus seems less interested in followers than He is in loving people and inspiring them.

Jesus is the model for leadership. Does He sometimes manage? Of course, at times management is necessary if only to provide food and shelter. But we don’t see Jesus managing/controlling people. Yes, He instructs them, even tells them what they need to do. In John 6:54 He tells Jewish followers that they need to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Down in verse 66 we see that many of His disciples turned away. Does Jesus get mad? Does He chase after them? No, He doesn’t. What He does is ask the 12 if they want to go too, He offers them the choice again.

We have all known people who we thought were leaders but in reality were mere managers. Many is the manager who believes she is a leader. We need to look to Jesus to understand what true leadership looks like. Our leaders style should resemble Jesus’ leadership and be well grounded in love of God and love of others.

To be obedient and submissive we must first humble ourselves, put away self. If we don’t can we truly obey? Truly submit?

I think we need to look at what these words mean. Merriam-Webster defines Obey as 1) To follow the commands or guidance of, 2) To conform to or comply with. I think that the general meaning that most of us think of is to Do as you are told. The sort of thing that you are subjected to and comply with out of fear of some sort. We obey the laws because we fear the consequences if we do not. We obey our bosses because he can fire us if we do not. When I hear that I am to obey it brings up images of not having control over my decisions. That someone else is in control of my life and decisions. Someone exercising control over me. I am not fond of that.

Are these the kind of images that should be arising when we read this passage? I think that here is a good place to look to the original language. Keep in mind that I am no Greek scholar, nor am I fluent in Greek or know anything of its inflected forms. But the word translated here as obey is the Greek word is peitho. This is a word that means:

1) persuade

a) to persuade, i.e. to induce one by words to believe

b) to make friends of, to win one’s favour, gain one’s good will, or to seek to win one, strive to please one

c) to tranquillise

d) to persuade unto i.e. move or induce one to persuasion to do something

2) be persuaded

a) to be persuaded, to suffer one’s self to be persuaded; to be induced to believe: to have faith: in a thing

1) to believe

2) to be persuaded of a thing concerning a person

b) to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with

3) to trust, have confidence, be confident

In its usage in this passage, its inflected for it takes on the meaning be persuaded by or believe in. Kind of like respect. Therefore, we are being instructed to believe in our leaders. We are to be persuaded by our leaders.

Why? Malichi 4:7 tells us, 7For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.

Our leaders speak God’s word into our lives.

And the author of our passage tells us, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. The phrase “Keeping Watch” may well have translated better as keep awake. As in our spiritual leaders stay awake worrying about us. They love us and care about us so much they are unable to sleep so they can guard our souls. The people we are to believe in, to be persuaded by are speaking God’s word into our lives, they are taking responsibilities for our souls. They are called of God and ordained by Him to lead. All we are asked is to believe.

The second thing we are instructed to do in Hebrews 13:7 is to submit to our leaders. I have heard many, far too many stories from people who have left churches because their leaders misread this instruction. Far too many pastors and lay people believe that this passage give the leaders rights over people. Well, I really do not thing that that is what is really being said here. I do not think that this is an instruction for church leaders to subject subjugate their congregants, I don’t think that kind of interpretation fits the Biblical narrative, especially the New Testament narrative. Let us first turn to the Greek. The work rendered, “submit to them”, is the single word hupeiko.

Hupeiko means to resist no longer. There is an element of volunteering in the true meaning of this word. This is not something another forces you to do. It is something you do voluntarily.  Here we are being asked to no longer rebel against our leaders, not to try to control them. We are being asked to submit to their leadership without fighting them at every turn. Accept the direction God has them taking our churches. Do not add to their burden. In short to love them.

So in the context of the passage about putting aside self in order to offer sacrificial praise I do not think it is an improper interpretation to say that we are being asked to put aside self, humble ourselves, place our spiritual selves into the hands of the leaders God has sent to us. We are to believe in them, be persuaded by them.

So, we are to obey, believe in and be persuaded by our leaders. To voluntarily put ourselves under their leadership, to follow where they lead without trying to wrench the wheel away from them so that they can lead with joy and not stress and heartache.

In John Jesus says, 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’

14:23-24  23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

We find here the equating of obedience and submitting oneself, following with LOVE, his love for us and our love for Him, our love for one another. When we obey our leaders we are showing the love, the love of Jesus, we are showing God our love for Him as well.

In this obedience of love we are offering our Authentic Sacrificial Praise.

Authentic Sacrificial Praise

Authentic Sacrificial Praise

Hebrews 13:15 tells us: 15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. But do we know what it is to offer a “Sacrifice of Praise”? Is sacrificial praise getting up early on a Sunday morning, dragging ourselves to “church”, singing (or listening to) a few songs and then a sermon, then going to lunch with our friends? Is this sacrificial praise, the kind of praise that is pleasing to God?

Well let us look to the biblical witness to find an answer to this question. Personally I like what the Old Testament has to say about praise and worship. Let us see what God said through Isaiah. In 1:11-13 we read, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me…” Then in verses 16-17, “[R]emove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed…”

What I think God is saying in these verses is that we cannot praise and worship Him if we are oppressing or not looking to the needs of others. When our political agendas override what God wants us to do, we sin and He does not listen to our prayers or accept our praise and worship. Especially when those agendas are oppressive and neglect the needs of the least of these.

Again, the prophet tells us: (Isaiah 29): 13The Lord said: … these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;

Isaiah 58 makes this pretty clear:

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; 14then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

I think verses 6 & 7 are worth another look: 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Hear what God is saying here. The fast (a form of worship in demonstrating obedience) is not so much about what you don’t eat but about how you treat your neighbor, others. Fasting seems from this passage to be about treating others as better than self, putting aside our desires for the sake of others. From the same chapter: If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. If we are to be pleasing to God, a living sacrifice, then we need to act intentionally in response to God and others to promote overall well-being.

A friend of mine, Thomas Jay Oord, who is a professor of theology at NNU and one of our denomination’s more prolific authors, searched the Bible for the most consistent definition of love. Hebrew and Greek words we translate as love are used numerous times with slightly different meanings. But all can be linked by an underlying unity and give rise to Tom’s definition: Love is to act intentionally in response to God and others to promote overall well being.

If we use this definition of love then we find that Love is the key to acceptable and authentic praise and worship.

Love, loving God and others are the greatest commandments, Jesus tells us. The Apostle Jesus Loved tells us God IS love. We can love one another and God because He first loved us. He gives His love freely to us, thereby enabling us to love one another. I think that He gives us love and commands us to love each other, and not just those within the Body, but everyone, so that by loving our fellow human beings/image bearers, that we honor and praise Him.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 21“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

In this statement Jesus reinforces what God told us through Isaiah, that while we have something against another, or if they have something against us we need to do what we can to make it right BEFORE our offering of praise and worship is acceptable to God.

The last two Sundays my wife and I have been fighting. I know that for me I was unable to stand in the presence of God to offer an acceptable praise and worship. My mind became so focused on me and my problem that I could not offer a sacrifice that God would find pleasing. There was strife in this very important relationship. Relationship, which is a product of Love, is so important to God that He wants us to go as far as we can to reconcile our relationships before entering His presence and offering praise and worship.

If there are any of you who are experiencing strife in any of the relationships in your life I pray that the Holy Spirit will descend upon you and give you the power to heal those broken relationships as far as it is up to you.

Love, coming from these passages and Dr. Oord’s definition, then requires a sacrifice. We need to sacrifice self for the well being of others. Sacrifice self like Jesus sacrificed Himself for our well being. Through Jesus sacrifice God forgives us our sins, we are required to forgive the sins of others in the same way. This applies to everyone, ax murderers, child molesters, prostitutes, drug addicts, even those who offend us ever so slightly, everyone. Further we need to go and make amends to others whom we have offended, whether that offense was intentional or accidental. Jesus tells us in Matthew that when we become aware we are required to go and try to make it right.

I know that I very often, as I go through life, cause people offence. Most of the time it is not intentional or deliberate, but still I do it. As I become aware of the offence I caused I need to offer my apology. I need to put down self and make amends. Treat others as more important than myself.

So, we started with Hebrews 13:15 & 16, let us look to this chapter to get the context in which these verses reside to see whether or not we followed the right path in finding the source of Authentic Sacrificial Worship.

13 1Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

For me verses 1-6 bring to mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” This seems to link loving others with showing love to God. It is oft said that imitation is the highest form of flattery (praise). How many of us in here today are parents? How many of us parents have heard our children say, “When I grow up I want to be just like you Daddy/Mommy,”? And even if we haven’t heard it, how many have fantasized about it? We would like our children to grow up to be like the positive we see in ourselves. When we hear those words, whether from our Children or in our imaginations we feel flattered/praised (and we are imperfect beings.) How much more does God feel praised when we strive to imitate Him, to be like Him? This IS the highest form of praise we can offer God. To try to give the love, the sacrificial love that Christ gave us when He freed us from bondage to our sins and darkness. When we give comfort to the least of these we are being like Christ, like our Father in Heaven and He feels honored, praised and worshiped. Not when we do it expecting Him to give us something, for Jesus did not give Himself for us expecting something in return, but from a heart full of perfect love. Matthew 5 we hear Jesus tell us what perfection, Christian perfection is, 43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

To be perfect like your Father is perfect is to love with a love like He shows to us. To love Him and others with this same perfect love. When we do we are perfect, entirely sanctified in that moment. And we also give unto God the perfect sacrifice of praise.

Lest we think that these passages only speak of loving others in the church let us look at what Hebrews says,

10We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. 11For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Roger Hahn, Professor at NTS, wrote about this passage, “In Judaism the undesirable parts of the sacrificial animal were burned outside the community boundaries. Jesus accomplished his sacrifice outside the city wall of Jerusalem. Therefore, in some way he resembles the undesirable parts of the Jewish sacrifices. The author then exhorts his readers to share with Christ the low esteem that comes from being outside the walls.”

So we have Love of others in the first verses of the chapter on sacrificial praise. Then we come down to demonstrating the Love from God not just to those inside the walls of the church, but to do like Jesus and extend Love to those outside our walls as well. This then becomes the Sacrificial Praise that God is looking for, to love each other, those within and without the faith. We need to act intentionally in response to God and our fellow beings to promote overall well being, while not considering our desires, our standing, our riches, our selfishness.

Let me summarize with the words of Dr. Hahn, “Authentic worship will offer to God our best confessions of who he is and what he has done. Authentic worship will also demand that we come to the sanctuary with integrity in our relationships with others and that we leave the sanctuary to serve our fellow human beings. The continual aspect of the sacrifice of praise is not continually saying or singing praise songs, but daily living lives that honor God.”

Let’s look once again at our questions that started this message:

Is sacrificial praise getting up early on a Sunday morning, dragging ourselves to “church”, singing (or listening to) a few songs and then a sermon, then going to lunch with our friends? Is this sacrificial praise, the kind of praise that is pleasing to God?

If this is solely what we think of as praise and worship then the answer in a resounding, “NO!” But when we come to church on Sunday and offer our voices and our ears in praise and worship as the culmination of a week of worship and praise through Love of God and others, then, Yes, it absolutely IS sacrificial praise and IS pleasing to God.

Let us take this message with us when we leave here today and put it into practice. We Christians have a bad reputation in the world for being self-righteous, judgmental, and condemning hypocrites. This perception goes back a very long time, Augustine called these people, “Evil and false Christians.” Let us show the world Christ by our Authentic Sacrificial Praise. Let us not Honor Him with our lips, but our hearts be far from Him. When our hearts flow with love for God and everyone else then He will hear our petitions and answer in the positive. It isn’t too hard for He gives us His love so that we too can love, we just need to distribute it to everyone we come into contact with.