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Useless Fires

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altar sacrifice“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands”. Malachi 1:10 NIV

“Why doesn’t one of you just shut the Temple doors and lock them? Then none of you can get in and play at religion with this silly, empty-headed worship. I am not pleased. The God-of-the-Angel-Armies is not pleased. And I don’t want any more of this so-called worship! Malachi 1:10 The Message


Well…. anyone who has ever said the Bible doesn’t read clear can’t use that argument here. I’m not sure how God could have been any more clear on this matter of giving our best sacrifice. He did not mince words.

“I am not pleased with you,
says the Lord Almighty.” 

Yikes!

There have been plenty of times that I’ve given less than my best. Only we know if we have or haven’t offered our best sacrifice and the Lord Almighty judged the intentions of their physical offerings at the altar then but He judges the intention of our heart offering now. Since we don’t offer animal sacrifices anymore, thank the Lord!, this becomes a matter of the heart.

This passage was written in the time when an animal sacrifice was offered for payment of sins. The rules were clearly laid out in Leviticus (strange read, btw) on what was considered acceptable and what wasn’t considered acceptable. For anyone reading this who hasn’t grown up in the church or read these scriptures, this probably all seems super weird. And it is. But, in a nutshell, pure animal sacrifices, the best animal they had, were to be offered as a sacrificial blood offering to keep a right relationship with God. Yeah, still weird, I know. But this was God’s provision for the people in what we call the Old Testament times. Then when Jesus came, He became the ultimate and final sacrifice needed to forgive our sins when He died on the cross. Therefore, animal sacrifices were no longer necessary. Yes, I know, still seems strange. So much of that Christian faith is just that, faith. If this seems like a bunch of jibberish to you, I simply ask you to find people and resources you can trust and keep searching.

A three-legged animal, a blind animal or maybe one that was sick and going to die anyway was what these people were offering. To the Lord Almighty! Figuratively speaking, it’s what most of us offer every day too.

IMG_1277We recently celebrated my husband’s birthday. I planned (I even contacted his favorite restaurant in Singapore to see if they’d give me a recipe for his favorite burger there. And they did!), prepared, shopped for the best ingredients, created a pleasant environment in our home, all that jazz. He deserved his requested meal and was very much looking forward to it. His mouth watered for days. What if I was lazy and didn’t feel like going to the store or preparing the meal or even having clean dishes. What if I just went and picked up McDonald’s? He would be disappointed. You can’t make anything at McDonald’s taste remotely like a Brewerkz Volcano Burger. I suspect that not even a miracle can make that happen.

I’m not saying that McDonald’s might not
be someone’s best but it’s not my best.

Can we talk food drives? You know those food drives where we go to our pantry and grab everything we don’t eat like cans of beets or cheap soups that we bought 10 of because they were on sale? Or do we go to the store and buy things that we would want for a holiday meal? The good stuff? Yeah, I’m guilty too. I was actually convicted of this several years ago. The recipient of the food doesn’t know who gave it or if it was my best, but I do. And the Lord Almighty does.

I’m so guilty of placing my pitiful
offerings before useless fires.

I was reminded of an encounter with a homeless guy many years ago. I was very young at the time. I’m not proud of this encounter, but it was a learning experience for me, so not wasted. In a nutshell, the guy had attitude and he wanted money. I wasn’t giving money. After a long and heated discussion with him (heat from him and attempted love and grace from me) I told him I would get him some food when I went through the drive-thru and to meet me on the other side if he wanted it. He did meet me and I gave him a burger meal and he said “that’s it?”. I was taken aback that he was so ungrateful. I mean he was homeless for goodness sake! In my heart, however, I knew that this was not my best. Somehow I think he must have known too. The Lord Almighty definitely knew. I drove away furious and feeling all self-righteous that I had totally wasted my money on burger meal for “that ungrateful homeless guy”. As I drove off I looked back and he was not there. He was not anywhere. I hadn’t gone that far and he couldn’t have disappeared that quickly. I have often thought that he might have been some sort of messenger sent from God to teach me a lesson. Which I did learn or at least began the process of learning.

I say “began the process” because a few years later another encounter happened in Nepal that indicated there was still work to be done. I wrote about this story in more detail here if you’d like to read it.

Nepal 3.30.31.11 shopping.sunrise.citytour 015

An adorable young girl followed us around town asking for 5 “rupee” and saying “hello” over and over to us with her sweet smile. I was alone with our 11 year old daughter at the time, in a foreign country, so I feared that if I gave her anything it could turn into more than I bargained for so we smiled back with every bit of our hearts and offered her nothing more. She later ended up outside the cafe of the hotel we were staying at and I asked the restaurant manager if he could give her some food and that we would pay. It was their custom to only give bread. If they gave anything more then they would come back often and disturb the guests. So that was all I could do. I thought… Until a young woman saw her and invited her to eat with her at her table. She pushed her plate of food over to the other side fo the table for her to eat. I didn’t think her smile could have become any sweeter, but it did. I watched this play out before my tear-filled eyes and even snapped a picture of her from a distance so this moment could be a reminder of my innocent ignorance and lost opportunity to be brave. But more than that even, a picture of God’s grace that covered the situation anyway. I knew I had not given my best. She knew it too, but she managed to smile back at me anyway as if to tell me that it was all ok. God took care of it. Took care of her. Grace.

Cambodia July 2012 213Back in our traveling days we often traveled to impoverished and broken countries where we were confronted with a host of beggars and peddlers. We knew that if we gave or bought their goods that we would likely be feeding the corruption and brokenness but if we didn’t then that little one might go hungry. We found it heart-wrenching to decide what to do especially when a little 4-year-old comes up to beg or sell their goods or a mom holding her 2-year-old peers at you through the window while you eat your meal that cost more than they’ve probably ever held in their hand and maybe had in their lives. We did what we could without asking for a mob scene which would likely have happened when they got anything from us and went back to tell the others.

I’m not saying that we need to give every homeless guy a thousand dollars or every sweet begging girl a gourmet meal. I only know that we know when we’ve given our best and when we haven’t and God does too. I know I have offered my share of pitiful and unworthy sacrifices to the fire but that’s not my intent. I’m not an awful person. I’m not even that selfish. Spoiled, unthoughtful and ignorant perhaps, but not selfish. I’m so thankful for God’s grace in my “useless fire” offerings. I truly believe He sees the heart above all else. That being said, I can’t count on His grace to cover me if my heart grows cold. The Lord Almighty knows.

So I stand convicted. Again. No more three-legged goats or sickly rams offered which render the redeeming fire of God useless. No more nasty canned beets, no more measly burger meals or not giving God’s precious children more than a piece of bread and a smile. The Lord Almighty and His creation deserves my best because He has given me His best. I know I miss the mark on pleasing Him all too often. I am so grateful we do not live under the Levitical law and there is grace and mercy because of Jesus’ death on the cross.

I’m trying, Lord. I’m trying.

Again.

~Andrea

John 3:8-21 The Message (The Bible paraphrased by Eugene Peterson from the original version to understandable English/contemporary US slang.)

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”

About Andrea

I'm a stumbling pilgrim and gatherer of stories. Stories about Jesus and how He gave His life for me, sustains me and redeems me... even though...

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