sacrifice

The Sacrifice of Covenant Relationship

Photo via jsp / Shutterstock.com

Biblical Ten Commandments inscribed on stone tablets in the Paleo-hebrew script. Photo via jsp / Shutterstock.com

On any given Saturday, people join Habitat for Humanity teams and commit to work to help eradicate poverty housing.  The individual volunteers give of their time, energy and physical ability because they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  Similarly, in the HBO TV drama “Game of Thrones,” individuals from the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos volunteer to serve as The Night’s Watch.  Members of The Night’s Watch live as a self-sufficient military order that defends the Wall that protects the Seven Kingdoms and patrols the Haunted Forest.  The Night’s Watch oath details the sacrifice of its members:

"Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come."

Although the members of The Night’s Watch are fictitious, they exist in a recognizable bond – a commitment that theologians call a covenant relationship. 

In the Book of Exodus, readers find the beginnings of the formalized covenant relationship between the Israelites and their god. 

God Sets the World Right

EVER SINCE ADAM AND EVE ate themselves out of house and home, we’ve experienced a brokenness in our lives. Rather than offer praise for God’s wondrous acts, we attempt to build God’s kingdom ourselves. Rather than tell of God’s greatness, we whine that religious obligation demands too much. Rather than involve ourselves in the community, we divide into factions over whether we should work or pray, wait or proceed. Still trying to be more god-like than accepting the assignment to bear God’s image in the world, we attempt to make a name for ourselves. The result? Human-initiated plans cast in language that parodies God’s own plan, pitting human counsel against divine. Setting nation against nation.

Pentecost marks a special occasion in the life of the Christian community. This extraordinary record of what we call the “birthday of the church” is less often noted as the 50th day after Passover—a day to pause, gather, and remember the great acts of God. Passover marks the liberation of the enslaved children of Israel from Egyptian oppression, and Pentecost is the moment “the Holy Spirit is poured out by God ... to empower the church to advance Christ’s mission to the very ends of the earth,” as David P. Gushee puts it.

The Pentecost mission involves patience with God’s timing, which is submission to God’s will. Meanwhile, rather than looking up for Christ’s return, we look for opportunities to be evidence that the kingdom has come.

Joy J. Moore is associate dean for African-American church studies and assistant professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

[ JUNE 1 ]
A Thousand Hints of Hope
Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68: 1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

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10 Personal Decisions for the Common Good

WE LIVE IN an age in which we are encouraged to make decisions that further our personal benefit. This attitude is so pervasive that it extends even to our spiritual lives.

There is a danger in making our faith so personal and inward, so focused on the first commandment to love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, that we forget to keep the second commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Though our culture would tell us to look out for number one, Christ’s upside-down kingdom offers a different and subversive message: Lose your life and you’ll find it. The church was designed to display the “manifold wisdom of God” by creating a community full of people who, like Jesus, put others before themselves and seek the common good. Christian community is intended to be a living witness, to demonstrate and to anticipate the future of the world that has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ.

In other words, it’s impossible to keep the second commandment without loving God with everything we have, but it’s also impossible to keep the first without loving our neighbors as ourselves.

A thriving common good and the quality of our life together are deeply affected by the personal decisions we all make. The commons—those places we come together as neighbors and citizens to share public space—will never be better than the quality of our own lives and households.

But what does that look like on a practical level? How can the choices we make as individuals reinforce the common good and promote human flourishing? As I’ve asked myself these questions, I’ve come up with 10 personal decisions we can make to further the common good.

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For the Love of God, Love Others

WDG Photo/Shutterstock.com

Jesus was the sacrifice. WDG Photo/Shutterstock.com

“Christianity” is often used to manipulate, control, shame, judge, and hurt others. It’s influenced by politics, popularity, wealth, success, pride, hate, fear, selfishness, and a desire for power. The poisoning of our beliefs — or theology — happens subtly, under the pretense of tradition, teaching, education, discipline, authority, respect, and religion.

We often treat theology similar to politics, where our beliefs and doctrines are based on which ones benefit us the most.

We strive to get everything we can from our faith, and this can lead to spiritual narcissism, where we become obsessed with maximizing the benefits for ourselves while withholding them from others.

Rarely do we adhere to — or agree with — theological ideas that benefit someone else more than us. Sacrificing our own comforts for the sake of others is absurd — which leads to a sense of divine favoritism.

7 Things Churches No Longer Do (But Should)

Pastor with Bible, Rob Marmion / Shutterstock.com

Pastor with Bible, Rob Marmion / Shutterstock.com

Our changing cultural values continually affect our spiritual lives and often shape our church experiences. Today’s churches aren’t immune from social trends and factors, and here are a few traditional practices that are becoming extinct within faith communities:

1. Discipline:

In a spiritual climate that’s extremely sensitive and wary of legalism, any type of authoritative action taken by a pastor or church can be highly explosive — often interpreted as aggressive, controversial, and hurtful.

Previous church models of authority and discipline have been so abused, and have such a bad historical reputation, that many Christian communities have simply abandoned the practice of church discipline.

Combine these factors with an overwhelming selection of churches to attend — where any type of discomfort can result in parishioners leaving to go elsewhere — and you can understand why spiritual leaders are reluctant to enforce any type of accountability.

Faithful Sacrifice

 Jesus bearing the cross, Jef Thompson / Shutterstock.com

Jesus bearing the cross, Jef Thompson / Shutterstock.com

There are so many people that have gone before me, people that have sacrificed their lives in pursuit of justice and equality. Because of this, I feel a deep sense of commitment to honor them by standing for some of the same things that they did. I am in complete awe of two things that connect deeply for me. The first is the cross and how Jesus gave his life for us all. The second is my ancestors who somehow understood Jesus’ sacrifice and passed it onto me through intense persecution.

I can’t say that I know persecution like my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents knew. I have been back to southern Alabama many times for family reunions and visited slave graveyards where relatives are buried. This compels me to be and do more with my life. I can’t say I understand why Jesus would choose to become human, walk this earth as a human being, and then die at the hands of his own creations to save those who were crucifying him. However, I do know it pushes me to be and do more with my life. I feel like I would let them down somehow if I didn’t take responsibility for addressing injustice with my life.

My life is not my own. I am the product of sacrifice. I am here because of those who saw beyond themselves and thought personal sacrifice was worth giving up to allow justice to take hold. I am here because Jesus modeled something completely illogical on the cross and then some of my ancestors took that example seriously and repeated it. I have no real right to the life I live. My only recourse is to continue the tradition handed to me in the same way.

A Big Thank You to the Heroines in our Lives

Mother and daughter, Warren Goldswain / Shutterstock.com

Mother and daughter, Warren Goldswain / Shutterstock.com

Women do a lot of work: Moms, grandmothers, aunties, sisters, daughters, wives, teachers, coaches, and any additional caregiving, mentoring position that fills in our lives. Take a moment to pause and reflect on the number of women who have helped you become the person you are today.

In the latest Shriver Report, NBA star LeBron James writes a meaningful tribute to his mother, Gloria, honoring her dedication as a parent and the sacrifices she made in raising her son as a young single mom. Because Gloria was just 16 years old when LeBron was born, they lived with his grandmother. When Gloria’s mother passed away three years later, she and her young son were on their own.

Still a teenager, Gloria did not have the support, education, or resources to sustain her family. The house was lost, and she and her son moved around frequently — a dozen times in three years — counts LeBron.

He writes that “My mom worked anywhere and everywhere, trying to make ends meet. But through all of that, I knew one thing for sure: I had my mother to blanket me and to give me security. She was my mother, my father, my everything. She put me first. I knew that no matter what happened, nothing and nobody was more important to her than I was. I went without a lot of things, but never for one second did I feel unimportant or unloved.”

In effort to model Gloria’s example of devotion, LeBron now takes an active role by helping other kids of single-parent homes through the LeBron James Family Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“The truth is that everything I’ve learned about being a parent to my boys … I learned from my mother,” he writes in his letter of appreciation to her. “Everything I know about being loving and caring, and sacrificing and showing up and being present in my children’s lives—I learned all of that from her example.”

Without his mother’s influence, would LeBron be the same LeBron?

Flipping the Script: Mimetic Theory and the Nonviolent God

nito/Shutterstock

Jesus lived, died, and resurrected by the mercy strand in the Bible. nito/Shutterstock

(Editor's Note: This post was adapted from the author's speech at the Christianity 21 Conference in Denver.)

When I was in seminary, one of my best friends came up with a brilliant theological … pick up line:

"Hey, baby. What’s your hermeneutic?"

Despite the genius of that question, we soon discovered that anytime you start a pick up line with “Hey, baby” you’re in some trouble.

But it’s such a great question. Think of all the relationships that would have avoided painful break ups if they just defined the relationship in the beginning by answering the question “What’s your hermeneutic?"

On Eid al-Adha, Tradition Gives Way to Online Innovation

Screenshot from Bikroy.com. Photo via RNS.

Muslims in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and elsewhere went online to buy live cows and goats for the traditional Islamic Feast of Sacrifice, known as Eid al-Adha, because shopping on the Internet was easier than going to crowded street markets to buy the animals.

“The purchase of sacrificial animal [online] has gained popularity as it is found to be the most convenient way of buying an animal for the ceremonious day,” Pakistan’s The Nation newspaper reported Wednesday.

10 Decisions You Can Make to Change the World

Young boy trying to save the world, alphaspirit / Shutterstock.com

Young boy trying to save the world, alphaspirit / Shutterstock.com

After traveling the country this spring — while keeping an eye on Washington, D.C. — I am more convinced than ever that our personal decisions, choices, and commitments will change the world more than our politics. The message in the Epilogue to On God’s Side says this as well as I could do again. It’s short and very practical. Here it is:

The common good and the quality of our life together will finally be determined by the personal decisions we all make. The “commons” — those places where we come together as neighbors and citizens to share public space — will never be better than the quality of human life, or the human flourishing, in our own lives and households.

Here are ten personal decisions you can make to help foster the common good.

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