Sacrifice and Purity

Recently I was moved by God to start reading the book of Isaiah, and this morning I began with the first chapter and could move no further.  I was overwhelmed by the message that was written there.  Even though Isaiah is describing Israel at the time, I cannot help but see the comparison in America and in myself.
Verse 5b-6a says:  “Your whole head is injured, your heart afflicted.  From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness.”  I wonder sometimes what God thinks when He looks upon the mess we have made.  Just looking at things from the perspective of social justice and trafficking, which is where God has convicted me to act, our nation has become so perverse.  Isaiah wrote it perfectly that it is not a head issue; we have completely lost our morals, values, and principles.  Our heart as a nation and our Church in America is inflicted and in need of an awakening from God.
The Scripture is intensely clear on its message:  “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.  Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean.  Take your evil deeds out of my sight!  Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!  Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow (v. 15-17).”  How do we waste our time in the church?  We give all our energy to making the Christmas program run smoothly and put on the perfect brunch for the ladies.  Program after program wears us down until we have nothing more to give.  God says, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings (v.13)!”  It is not the sacrifice God is looking for, but purity of the heart.  Until we look down and recognize the guilt on our hands and the responsibility that we have neglected, our petty prayers are meaningless.
Our nation is falling apart, and broken people are filling the streets.  Where are the Christians?  Hiding in the churches.  The book of James says, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins (c. 4:17).”  We all recognize the brokenness around us, but instead of doing something about it, we recognize that it is uncomfortable and try to stay as far away from it as we can.  Churches that were once located in the inner-city are moving out of the cities and into the suburbs.  What a tragedy this is.  In a time when the Church should be more relevant than ever and people need the message of Christ more than ever, Christians are pulling out and retreating to a place that is “safe”.
I am not just bashing all the other Christians out there; I am guilty with the rest of them.  And it is hard to know how to step out of the comfortable life you have always known to reach a world that you have a hard time identifying with.  If you haven’t been a victim of abuse, or been an orphan, or gone through a divorce, or have been trafficked in the sex industry, it is hard to identify with the trauma.  Relationships between healthy people are difficult; opening our lives to wounded people has consequences, just like all other choices that we make in life.  However, we live in a broken world, and that very fact has to penetrate our hearts at some point if we are to understand the will of God.  As a Church, we have become so focused on the details that we have forgotten the principles that once guided our purpose.
God offers a promise of redemption in verse 18:  “’Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord.  ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”  Our God is a redeeming God who delights in taking the ugly and turning it into beautiful.  He wants to give us new hearts.
For me, I could live the rest of my life in middle-class America living a pretty comfortable life, and I’m sure that would be a very pleasant way to live.  I was on that track.  However, God came in and messed up my life.  He opened my eyes to see the reality behind the facade that we have created.  God showed me His heart that breaks for His children, and that has changed my life.  My faith is not a true faith until it motivates me to take part in the movement of the Kingdom of God to restore things back to the way they were intended to be.  God is making all things new.  It is my hope that the Church can be a part of that.
I don’t want to be the kind of Christian that I hear about all the time, who speaks of many things but does not live the life they proclaim.  I met a man in his sixties Sunday night who came over to the booth that I was running.  At my particular station, people came and wrote on the canvass the various things that God has called them to do.  After studying the canvass for a while, the man looked up at me and said, “I try to live everything that I profess.”  That should be the heart of every Christian, and if that were reality, many skeptics would not have a case.  Maybe the world would not have so much trouble believing the truth.  They don’t see it, and for those who don’t understand it, how can they know?
I have lived too long in my comfortable world, or as Matthew West puts it, “my own little world”.  He poses the question, “What if there’s a bigger picture, what if I’m missing out?  What if there’s a greater purpose I could be living right now outside my own little world?”  That is the question that we should all be asking ourselves.  What are we missing out on by not taking part in God’s redemption story?  We have the chance to be actors, and yet we choose to sit in the audience!  Not me.  I’m all in.
I pray that God would give me the humility to serve.  I am not coming from a place of privilege high above the world.  I am coming as a fellow sinner, a broken person who has experienced the healing and salvation of God.  All that I have and all that I am is only by the amazing grace of God.  This love that I have received has so filled me that I cannot keep silent.  It is a wonder above all wonders that God would even think about us.  We, His creation, have rejected Him, resisted Him, and spat in His face, and yet He loves us so much that He constantly gives us His best.  He sent His only Son to be brutalized at our hands in order to give us a grace that we do not deserve and cannot earn.  We are the ones that broke the covenant, and God was the One who made it right.  What love is this?
Any righteousness that I may have I cannot claim.  I have no rights.  There’s only grace.  How does one who has no rights sacrifice anything?  All that I can do is come before God and lay my brokenness before Him and pray as David prayed,
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.
Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness…
You did not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it,
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  (Psalm 51:10, 12-14, 16-17)

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