Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Smell of Sacrifice

For some people, working at your local Quizno's would be beneath them. Not this guy. I loved it. I loved the staining of my hands with banana pepper juice. I loved the dressing up in Quizno's Cup Mascot costume and scaring children. I even loved the onion slicing.

Well, sort of.

I was one of the only guys in the store who could handle slicing gallons of onions at a time. I'm not sure if I was trying to act tough or not, but all I know is some of my co-workers had a significantly lower tolerance for the smell of those onions and the tears they produced. I would watch as some of them sat red-faced and sliced away on our industrial onion-chopper, with their eyes pouring water like Moses' rock. We had a cool trick, though.

When someone could no longer handle the faucet their face had become, they ran to the walk-in freezer and, well... walked in. Almost instantly, the stinging pain of the onion's aroma disappeared. It was like a switch turned off, and there was no more burning.
"And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5)
This is the part of the show where unbelievers typically do not understand what I'm about to talk about. When Christians start talking about fountains filled with blood, a Ghost that's called Holy, or a sacrificial Lamb, things start to sound pretty weird. These words, which hold such symbolism of power, mercy, and forgiveness for the Christian, are cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs crazy for the one who does not follow God.

A fragrant offering would be one of those things. So let's dive into crazy.

Seeing as that it is Easter's Eve, I find it perfectly appropriate to reflect on the fact that God's sacrifice on the cross was the intersection of God's perfect joy and unrelenting torment. Joy because He knew that He had just paid for the sins of His people, and torment for the idea of being separated from the most perfect, life-giving union this world has ever seen. Every drop of Christ's blood was the sweet reflection that the most absurdly impossible feat of redemption had just been accomplished, securing God's victory in an act that, by all accounts, appeared to be His defeat. And while the offering was sweet, I know that there were was a sting to that offering. A red-faced, tearful sting.

But instead of walking into a freezer, Jesus walked out of a tomb.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Strange Cultural Practices

Often, I feel that American culture has rejected every nuance of uniqueness. The only thing we've got going here in America is making sure everyone has their own, personal space. Distance. This is one of the defining qualities of Western culture: the idea that we have to be an arm's length away from everyone, not look at strangers in the eyes, keep quiet in public places, etc. It's a cold way of operating, and outside of this, there aren't many unique quirks that are identified as specifically American, as there are in other cultures.

In Hungary, it is a tradition for boys to throw water at girls on Easter Monday. Some sections of Burmese culture use neck rings to achieve giraffe status. The women of a tribe in Vietnam paint their teeth with an opaque black dye. Romanians have a Women's Day. Not Mother's day - Women's Day. All of them.

The Chinese, however, have a tradition that mandates how a gift is to be received. When a gift is offered, it must be rejected by the receiver three times before it can be taken. It is often uncomfortable if the giver doesn't offer the gift more than once. This tradition, though not as prominent as it used to be, still has its part in Chinese society.

You wouldn't, however, reject the gift a fourth time. Or fifth. Or sixteenth. Or over years of time.
"So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous." (Romans 11)
The Israelites had this bad habit of rejecting the gift of salvation that God was trying to give them. If you want to get a little background as to how the Israelites did this, check out Jeremiah 32. They consistently and persistently rejected the God who brought them into existence, effectively resisting the gift that He had for them.

I don't know about you, but when I have a gift that someone doesn't want to accept, I start looking around for someone else to give it to. And that's exactly what God did here.
"Then you will say, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.'" (Romans 11)
That might be somewhat abstract, so lemme put it this way: God, in response to the Jews' rejection, opened the path for everyone, not just the Israelites, to come to Him. In the past, God's gift was meant to be shared with His chosen people, but He was now opening the door so that all may come to Him. In other words, because of the negative aspect of Israel's rejection, God created the positive aspect of salvation for all.
"Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!" (Romans 11)
If God can make such a messed up situation a blessing, how much more will he be able to bless a good situation? Look, a lot of times, I write stuff to get you thinking and possibly convicted on certain things, and if I've accomplished that, then hallelujah. But, this week, I'm not writing to really point out anything other than the fact that we serve a God who is great.

So great, He makes beauty out of the broken. So great, that He uses things that are foolish to shame the wise. So great, He does everything in His own perfect timing - giving us what we need at the exact moment we needed it. So great, He keeps giving.

Even if it's the fourth time He's offered.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Healing Handkerchiefs and History's Greatest Shame

Late night infomercials are never a good idea. You end up buying things like Hawaii Chairs and Slumber Sleeves. Then you waste all your money to fill your house with things that were supposed to make your life more convenient. Then you inconveniently find yourself out on the streets, eating dog food and peddling alarm clocks just to stay alive.

I'm sorry. That was a bit far, I realize that.

In any case, I'm not sure if you've ever seen these, but they're called Green Prosperity Prayer Handkerchiefs. Essentially, these are little green washcloths that have been "anointed" by the prayers of a man named Don Stewart. They're for the purpose of healing those who would use it. Well, rather than delve into why that makes me angry enough to punch a squirrel from the unbiblical nature of what this product is teaching, I'm going to use this to make a point.

People like attributing marvelous qualities to inanimate objects.

Take the cross, for example. We always talk about the cross in worship music, testimonies, witnessing opportunities, etc. Christians like to talk about how the cross symbolizes redemption, glory, and forgiveness.  Many of us wear cross jewelry. We have cross lanyards that hang from our rearview mirrors.We even use the cross to make analogies. If you've ever given or received a gospel tract, you've probably seen the the cross pictured as the thing that bridges the chasm between us and God. Or, if you're like me, you've recently heard that the cross's vertical beam connects us to God, and the horizontal beam connects us to other people. In short, the cross is attributed with hundreds of qualities that describe its greatness.

Problem: the cross was a torture device.

For us to wear a tiny, golden cross is the equivalent of us wearing a tiny, golden electric chair. Or lethal injection needle. Or noose. In other words, it's cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs crazy for us to wear something that would signify an intentional, and deliberately tortuous death.

Even Satan saw this. He had it all planned out. He would watch with relish as the maker of the universe, his opponent, died the most shameful of deaths - a criminal's punishment on a cross. The Romans' most humiliating torture tool would be put to its full use, and the Devil's satisfaction would be complete.
"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Genesis 50)
Sorry, Satan. It turns out that your best efforts to make Jesus look weak actually made His death one of the clearest expositions of God's simultaneously displayed qualities of strength, love, and wrath. Your most valiant attempt at humiliation actually fell on your own head when the God of all creation purchased back all of mankind with His death. So, as you crawl away in shame, don't let the door hit you on the way out, 'cuz I'm all out of healing handkerchiefs.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Practical Jokes, Unholy Hours, and a Strange Call

Usually, when people get prank calls, they're a hassle. Luckily, God has blessed me with some people who know the art of the prank call. I'm not sure that many would consider themselves fortunate to be on the receiving end of high-quality pranks, but I always really appreciated it when people actually put the thought and effort into a practical joke.

Past capers have included being called to confirm the details of my "upcoming" photo shoot as a (Russian?) model, a series of never-ending texts describing my "subscription" to Daily Cat Facts, and many more. Whoever is out there orchestrating these master-plans of jokery, you have my applause. Because, let's be honest, if I'm gonna get a call at some unholy hour of the night, it better be painted in wit.

God is a big fan of calling people. Although, it's not really in the same vein as prank calls. When you get a call from God, the weight of His summoning is too heavy to resist. And the hours at which he rings are never unholy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Samuel would know. 

In any case, when one thinks of a calling from God, they typically think about the duty of sharing the gospel, or the duty of forgiveness. In other words, we usually think of the responsibility of blessing other people. And to that I say, "Yes and Amen!"


"But? Are you about to tell me we shouldn't be burdened to help others? You're a heretic. Stop writing, blasphemer!"

All right, first of all, y'all need to get that attitude checked out. I didn't finish yet. So, if you would please put down your gun, I'd appreciate it. Thank you.

But, we aren't just called to bless other people. Check this out:
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful."" (Colossians 3)
Colossians 3 deals a lot with interpersonal relationships. It's about what we first talked about: helping others. That calling is made super clear. However, the apostle Paul here says that we are called to peace. We are told to allow it to rule in our hearts. To be under the subjection and submission of a rested soul.

That, my friends, is a command.

I know that when it comes to the responsibility of blessing others, people often take it very seriously. But, for some reason, when we are commanded to do something that would bless ourselves, we treat it as a "soft command" of sorts. As if not following this command isn't as big a deal as not following another. Because often, as Christians, we get this sick and twisted idea that torturing ourselves mentally over the decisions and trials of life is considered some kind of righteousness. Like a monk tormenting his body in hopes of getting closer to God. But if Romans 8 has anything to say about it, that is a lie from the pit of hell.
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
Hear that? For our good, and His glory.

If you're anything like me, it's time to double up on this whole calling deal.