Sacrifice Something

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

Mark 8:1-3

Jesus had already fed one large crowd (Mark 6:30-46) with just a few loaves and fishes. Once again He and the disciples found themselves with a large crowd that needed food.

Jesus essentially hosted what, today, we would call a conference. People were there receiving healing and deliverance and listening to Him teach for three days. Some of them had walked a long distance to be there. Most of them had long since run out of the food that they brought with them.

What follows is another incredible miracle of seven loaves of bread being multiplied to feed a crowd of 4000 men plus women and children. Jesus’s compassion for the people sparked another miraculous event. Yet, there is another ingredient in this equation that needs to be recognized.

There is a pattern in the Gospels of God moving powerfully when people make personal sacrifices to get to Jesus. There is something about people traveling long distances, or going without food, or risking their social standing, or digging through a roof that touches the heart of Jesus. The kind of faith that is willing to sacrifice something pleases God.

I have seen this Kingdom principle play out in our own time. I’ve seen people sacrifice time, money and effort in order to get to a conference, and I have watched as God honored that sacrifice by moving powerfully in their lives. I have seen a number of people sacrifice a whole day driving up from Virginia in order to receive prayer from our prayer team. I’ve watched as God honored that sacrifice by moving powerfully in their lives during the prayer times.

There is something about being willing to travel. There is something about being willing to sacrifice time and money for the sake of our pursuit of intimacy with Jesus. There is something about getting out of our comfort zone and being obedient. God rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11:6

King David had sinned against the Lord. He was then instructed by the prophet Gad to go up to the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite and built an altar to the Lord there. When King David got there, Araunah offered to give him the threshing floor rather than have the king purchase it. Araunah was even going to throw in the oxen for the burnt offering for free as well. We learn something important from King David’s response:

…the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

2 Samuel 24:24

We see here again this principle of the Kingdom of God. For it to be an offering to the Lord, it should cost us something. And when it costs us something, God is honored by it. God is moved by sacrificial action that costs us something.

God is not a vending machine where we sacrifice something to get what we want. But He is a loving Father whose heart is moved by people willing to pay the price to pursue Him.

Tip of the Shovel

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28

I have found that in the Kingdom of God being the tip of the spear often means being the tip of the shovel.

In the Kingdom of God, the reward for faithfulness often comes in the form of more responsibility. If you see someone who is incredibly gifted in the Kingdom, it is often the case they they have sacrificed a tremendous amount for the Lord. They have humbled themselves in obedient surrender in ways that would seem like “too much” for us. For them, it simply flowed out of their intimacy with the Lord.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:7-8, 10

Jehovah-Jireh

“…Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Genesis 22:12-14

This is one of the most famous moments in the Bible. Isaac was the son Abraham and Sarah weren’t able to have for years. After decades of infertility, God blessed them with Isaac. All the promises of Abraham’s future, his legacy, his descendants and his inheritance from the Lord were contained in Isaac. And Abraham was willing to surrender it all to the Lord, leaving it all behind, for the sake of obedience.

The writer of Hebrews interprets the moment this way:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

Hebrews 11:17-19

It was this moment that gave us one of the names of God. Traditionally “Jehovah-Jireh” or “Yaweh-Yir’eh” has been translated, “The Lord will Provide.” In a moment of crisis, God provided Abraham with the ram. God provided the sacrifice that Abraham needed at just the right moment. This is a foreshadow of what God would do through Jesus, providing for us the perfect sacrifice.

In the Hebrew, the word “Jireh” or “Yir’eh” literally means “to see.” So the literal translation of Jehovah-Jirah is, “The Lord will see.” And instead of the phrase being translated, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided,” the literal translation is, “in the mountain of the Lord it will be seen.”

There is a connection in the Hebrew between God “seeing” and God “providing.” This same connection can be seen in English as well. When we say, “see to it” we aren’t talking about looking at something. We’re talking about action. And we have the word “provision” which literally contains the word “vision” in it. One definition of “pro-vision” means “to see beforehand.” It’s about preparing ahead of time with “provisions.”

So in this one Hebrew word, Jireh, we understand that God is our provider because He is the God who sees our need ahead of time. God’s name, Jehovah-Jireh, isn’t just about God giving us stuff. It’s about the nature of a good Father who knows His children, a Father who is not preoccupied but fully present, and loves to provide for His kids. He sees us. He sees our situation. He sees our need.

Sometimes we need to remember that God is enough because God is our provider. He sees us. And because God is enough, He makes us enough. If you want to hear an uplifting song that highlights God as Jehovah-Jireh, listen to this one. It is called “Jireh” by Maverick City Music and Elevation Worship.

Prayer of Jabez – Revisited

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

1 Chronicles 4:9-10

In the early 2000s, the “prayer of Jabez” caught on like wildfire throughout the American Christian community. The prayer comes from an obscure scripture passage buried in a section of 1 Chronicles that lists descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel.

For years you could find people asking God in prayer to bless them, enlarge their territory, and keep them from harm (Remember that?). And while there is nothing wrong with praying for these things, it often had a prosperity gospel ring to it that was unhealthy. People kind of forgot the first line of the passage that talked about Jabez being more honorable than his brothers. They also tended to skip over the pain of Jabez’s birth.

I honestly hadn’t thought about the prayer of Jabez for two decades, that is, until the Lord spoke to me about it in the car the other day. Seriously.

I was listening to the local Christian radio station (95.1 Shine-Fm) which was doing a fundraiser. The radio DJ thanked a grandmother who gave $30 a month to the radio station for each grandchild. ($30 a month is the financial contribution that makes you a financial partner with the radio station).

What was extraordinary about this woman was that she didn’t just give $30 a month so that her grandkids would have a Christian radio station to listened to. She gave $30 a month FOR EACH GRANDCHILD. When each kid was born, she added a new financial partnership. So, since her 5th grandchild was just born, she was increasing her giving again.

Do the math. $30 a month X 5 grandkids = $150 a month…every month…just so she could ensure a Christian radio station would be available for her grandkids when they got older. I was really amazed and delighted by this woman’s generosity when I heard the story. That’s when the Holy Spirit whispered* to me, “That is what ‘enlarge my territory‘ means.” Wow! I wasn’t expecting that!

First, I couldn’t believe God was reaching back two decades and bringing the prayer of Jabez to mind again. But the Holy Spirit was giving me a new perspective on it. Enlarging our territory doesn’t just mean greater blessing (having 5 grandkids) it means greater responsibility, greater sacrifice, greater giving ($30 a month for each one).

Then I heard* the Holy Spirit say, “This is what ‘stretch out your tents‘ means.” I knew that phrase was from a passage of scripture but I couldn’t remember it, so I had to look that one up.

“Enlarge the place of your tent,
    stretch your tent curtains wide,
    do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
    strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
    your descendants will dispossess nations
    and settle in their desolate cities.

Isaiah 54:2-3

The expansion of influence, blessing, and territory means the expansion of generosity, sacrifice and taking responsibility for what is now under your “tent.”

So when we pray, “Lord, expand my territory” or “Lord, stretch out my tents” do we understand what we are really praying? Are we sure we want to pray that? God is happy to answer our prayer, but will we be happy with Him answering our prayer? It will mean no longer listening to the radio station for free. And it will mean not just donating $30 a month but $150 a month. It means taking responsibility for things that become our new territory.

So often we have no idea what we’re praying for. Thank the Lord He doesn’t always give us what we ask for. Yet, with this new insight, I do believe God wants us to pray the prayer of Jabez and the words of Isaiah 54:2. We just need to be prepared for what His answer will mean for our lives.

[*when I reference hearing the Holy Spirit whisper or speak to me, I don’t mean an audible voice. It is often a thought or picture that passes through my mind that doesn’t come from me. It often comes out of the blue with an idea that is surprising or unsuspecting. Some Christians call it the “still, small voice” of the Lord similar to what Elijah experienced on Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:12).]

Burn the Ships

So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.

1 Kings 19:21

Elijah had just encountered God on Mt. Horeb. The Lord commanded Elijah to stop hiding and to get back to work. One of his assignments was to anoint Elisha as his prophetic successor. So one day, as Elisha was plowing with a team of 12 oxen, Elijah walked up to him and threw his cloak over Elisha. This was a prophetic act of offering to Elisha his own prophetic mantle.

After saying goodbye to his family, Elisha does something really powerful. By sacrificing his oxen and burning the plowing equipment, Elisha was declaring a total surrender to the life of a prophet. He would have no economic back-up plan. He was leaving his past behind him. He was burning all the bridges and risking everything to become Elijah’s prophetic apprentice. And it was an act of gratitude to the Lord for choosing him.

Jesus asks us for something similar when we decide to follow Him. This is what Jesus told those following Him early in His ministry:

Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:62

I’ve experienced this moment a few different times in my life of faith. This feeling of leaving everything to follow Him happened first when I decided to give my life to Jesus when I was 9 years old. I sensed it again when I was 12 and I was surrendering to an authentic life of having a relationship with Jesus. I remember choosing between who I knew God called me to be and the cool kids in middle school.

This kind of choice was before me once again the summer I turned 17 when I felt God call me into full-time ministry. I remember struggling with this decision and asking God, “But how am I going to make any money, and how am I going to provide for a family?” I distinctly remember God’s answer, “Mark, I am your provider and I will be the provider for your family.”

More recently (6 years ago), I was faced with the choice to follow Jesus as He led me into the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. At 34 years of age and after a decade of pastoral ministry, I was being invited into something scary, uncertain, and new. A cloak had been thrown over my shoulders, and I had to decide what to do. Would I embrace the new mantle or go back to plowing the field? Would I follow Jesus knowing it would mean sacrificing so much of what I had built over the last decade of ministry? Would I sacrifice the oxen and burn the equipment?

By God’s grace and because of His pursuit of me (not by my own initiative), I decided to once again take the risk to follow Jesus into uncharted territory. God was kind enough not to have me go alone. He brought people around me in the journey so that I could walk through the process in community. He did the same for Elijah and Elisha. Before sending Elijah to anoint Elisha, God told Elijah, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him”(1 Kings 19:18). We’re never as alone as we might think we are.

What about you?

Is God calling you to sacrifice the oxen and burn the plow equipment of your former life? Is God calling you into something new and uncertain? Are you willing to leave it behind to follow Jesus?

Devotion

The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’”

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.

Judges 2:1-3, 10-15

These are very sobering words and sound all too familiar. While Christians around the world are giving up everything for the sake of the gospel, American Christians are raising a generation “who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done” for us. The consequences of this are severe.

In an article written in Christianity Today about a tiny village church way up in the mountains of a country where Christianity is not welcome, the author wrote this about the pastor of that church:

Before the meeting, the church’s pastor had shared with me that his non-Christian parents died when he was just 15. A few years later, someone shared the gospel with him for the first time. He trusted in Jesus and was baptized, but as soon as this happened, the rest of his family abandoned him. His brothers told him to never come back, and he lost the inheritance his parents had left him. But this pastor and his people believe that Jesus is worth it. “Jesus is worth losing your family,” the pastor told me.

Then he quoted Mark 10:29–30, saying,

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a hundred times more, now at this time—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and eternal life in the age to come.”

David Platt, Christianity Today, October 3, 2019

Jesus is worth it. Could most American Christians say that? Americans can sit through 3 hour football games with complete focus but struggle to sit through 1 hour worship services. American Christians complain about their ADHD during a 30 minute sermon but are able to watch a 2 and a half hour movie or binge-watch 3 hours of Netflix.

The issue is not our attention span. The issue is what we love most. And, unfortunately, it’s not Jesus. To the American Christian, Jesus is not worth it. We struggle to give Jesus a few minutes of our time let alone our family. We are masters at worshipping the gods of our culture and infants when it comes to worshiping our Lord and Savior. The global church has a lot to teach us about what real devotion looks like.

Lord, please forgive us! Forgive us for breaking covenant with you. Forgive us for worshiping the gods of this culture. Forgive us for prioritizing entertainment and comfort over our love for you. Forgive us for being a church that is sleep walking. Wake us up, Lord!

The Five-fold King

Then the five kings of the Amorites—the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon—joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.

Joshua 10:5

The Amorite king of Jerusalem heard what Joshua and Israel did to Jericho and Ai and that they made a treaty with Gibeon. So he gathered the five Amorite kings together in order to attack the people of Gibeon. Because of the treaty, the people of Gibeon sent word to Joshua and asked him for help. Joshua showed up with the Israelite army and defeated the armies of the five Amorite kings.

Joshua then chased down the five kings and held them in a cave until the fighting was over. Then this happened:

Then Joshua put the kings to death and exposed their bodies on five trees, and they were left hanging on the trees until evening.

At sunset Joshua gave the order and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had been hiding. At the mouth of the cave they placed large rocks…

Joshua 10:26-27

Let that scene sink in for a second. Each king was hung on a tree, buried in a cave, and then stones were placed in mouth of the cave. This scene is a foreshadowing of Christ’s death and burial. This is a typology of Jesus. Jesus, the King of Kings, was hung on a tree, buried in a cave/tomb, and had a stone rolled in front of it.

Not only that, but these kings are put to death by Joshua. Jesus’s name in Hebrew was Joshua (Yeshua). This creates a beautiful juxtaposition with what Jesus did for us. Instead of putting to death the five kings, our Joshua (Jesus) became the five kings for us. He was hung on a tree and buried in cave for us.

When the Lord showed me this I was blown away. Then I asked the Lord, “But why five? What do the five kings represent?” The Lord spoke very clearly to me and told me to look at the five sacrifices in Leviticus. When I went back to research this, I was astounded.

The Five Offerings of Leviticus:

1. The Burnt Offering (Leviticus 1): This was the offering that was completely consumed on the fire. None of it would remain to eat. It was an offering that signaled the complete devotion of the person offering it. The purpose of the sacrifice was atonement. Jesus gave all of himself becoming our burnt offering. He made atonement for us and secured our covenant with God.

2. The Grain Offering (Leviticus 2): This was the offering of breads and cakes. It was a voluntary offering just as the burnt offering was. No yeast was allowed in the breads that were offered. Jesus is the Bread of Life, the manna from heaven, offered in our place. He is the unleavened bread–the perfectly sinless sacrifice. Part of the offering was on the altar and the other part was consumed by priests. Likewise, we consume the body of Christ and take Him into ourselves as the Holy Spirit dwells within us.

3. The Fellowship Offering/Peace Offering (Leviticus 3): This offering was either a lamb or goat and it was the fat portion of that animal. These offerings were called fellowship offerings because they were given by those who were at peace with God in order to express their gratitude. This offering was also a voluntary offering. Jesus voluntarily became the offering that made us at peace with God. He is the one who reconnected us to the Father. Romans 5:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”

4. The Sin Offering (Leviticus 4): The sin offering was a offering of the fat portions of an animal in order to cover unintentinal sins or sins committed unconsciously. This offering was mandatory. This offering was meant to address our sin nature, not just particular individual sins. Jesus became our sin offering. Jesus became sin in order to set us free from our sin nature and give us a new, redeemed nature. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

5. The Guilt Offering (Leviticus 5): The guilt offering was meant to make restitution for individual wrongs done. It was mandatory like the sin offering. It was a way to sort of pay God back for the sin committed. Jesus became our guilt offering, taking all of our guilt upon himself and wiping away the guilt in our lives. Hebrews 10:22 says, “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

So the death of these five Amorite kings not only reaches back to Leviticus but reaches forward to foreshadow the ways in which Jesus’s death on the cross would have at least five layers of meaning for us. Jesus became the fivefold King who gave Himself as a fivefold sacrifice. All of this so that we could enter our inheritance, our Promised Land, both now and into eternity. Thank you Jesus!

Left Behind

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 

Matthew 19:28-29

We will face hardship in the world. Some of it will be just the inevitable result of the brokenness of a sinful world. Some of it will be the result sinful choices of people around us. Some of it will be the consequences of sin in our own life. Some of it will be opposition from the enemy trying to hamper who we were created to be and what we were created to do.

Yet, there is another category of hardship that comes with following Jesus. There will be times when Jesus asks us to leave behind something that we love in order to pursue His calling on our life. There will be times when we are called to take up our cross and follow Him.

He may call us to give up food at certain intervals in order to fast and pray. He may call us to get up earlier to exercise or spend more time with Him. He may call us to change jobs, move to a new place, or give our money to an organization in a sacrificial way that feels painful. He may call us to leave behind the American dream in order to pursue His dream for our life.

Whatever it is that we are called to leave behind, Jesus gives us a promise in its place. Whatever we give up for the sake of the name of Jesus will be repaid to us a hundred times over. Whatever we allow to die will be planted in the ground and will produce a harvest much larger than whatever we gave up. Our inheritance from the Lord will be much bigger that whatever we sacrificed.

How gracious is our God! If He tells us to leave behind something not good for us, like sin, it sets us free and makes us whole. If He tells us to leave behind something that is good for us as a sacrifice to Him, He ends up paying us back a hundred times over anyway. This is the generosity of the Lord! This is the grace of God!

What is God asking you to leave behind as He calls you further into Himself?