Monday, March 20, 2017

Peace: A Demonstration of Thanks

            AFTER LAST week’s post, were you able to come up with a list of things in life you are thankful for? As you wrote your list, or made mental notations, did you feel as though your heart was becoming more pliable to peace? Did you feel more at peace than before you made the list? Did you smile at some of the memories? Were you able to dig down deep and refocus your heart at all on the right object of worship?

           So let’s take this a little further today, from mentally going through a list of blessings or writing them down and thanking God for them verbally to the concept introduced in the Old Testament of actually giving a peace offering—an offering of thanks—for what God has done for you.

            The first place we see this peace offering, or thank offering introduced is in Exodus 20:24, where God gives directions for building and using the Law of the Altar, on which burnt offerings and peace offerings would be made. The LORD says in this verse: “An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you.”
            In other words, the Israelites were to erect an earthen altar, not chiseled out or fashioned by a man’s tools but taken from natural rock and erected to use as an altar for offerings, including the peace offering, a voluntary offering given to God in recognition of who He is, what’s He done; an offering given alongside a vow; thanks for God’s deliverance in time of dire need.
            And while most sacrifices outlined in the Old Testament, under what is known as the Mosaic Law, were not meant to be eaten, the peace offering was to be eaten. A portion of the offering was brought to the altar for burning, and the remainder was given back to the worshiper for him to enjoy, or given to the poor or hungry, or to the High Priest and his family. (God designated the specific part of the animal they were to receive.)          
   describes the meaning behind the peace, or thank, offering this way: “The beautiful picture here is of God’s provision for His people, both physically and spiritually. His grace and goodness are present throughout the offerings. In the peace offering, God was providing what we need: a way to thank Him for His goodness and sustenance.”


            As we move through Exodus and Leviticus, and into Numbers, we see the process God outlined for performing the peace offering; the peace offerings the Israelites made to God. (Unfortunately, in chapter 32 of Exodus, we also see an abominable peace offering the Israelites made to the golden calf idol they had fashioned while Moses was up on the mountain receiving God’s law for them.)
            The offerings were to be the person’s best they had to offer, not leftovers. Animals were to be without blemish, the choicest ones from the flock. Unleavened, rather than puffed-up-with-yeast bread. Sometimes the sacrificial meat was to be eaten (enjoyed) the day of the sacrifice, not saved for later; at other times, depending upon the specific peace offering, the meat could be eaten the following day but no later. If they were ritually unclean (impure) when partaking of the peace offering, then God would not accept it. When the people ate the sacrifice, they also needed to eat it in a “clean” (ceremoniously pure) place.
            And God says in Leviticus 19:5: “And if you offer a sacrifice of a peace offering to the LORD, you shall offer it of your own free will.” Not from coercion, not from a feeling of responsibility, not from pressure from your friends, elders, or pastor, but from a free, thankful heart.
            At the end of the book of Judges, we see the Israelites bawling their eyes out before the LORD, with the recognition of their waywardness, and offering peace offerings to Him. When Saul is selected king over Israel, we see the people offering peace offerings and whooping it up at the coronation.

            But my intention is not to give you a litany of peace offering verses today. What I want you to see and appreciate is that these are not sacrifices to gain God’s favor or manipulate Him, like the surrounding country’s sacrifices to their idols were. Indeed, no sacrifice to Jehovah was set up with that meaning behind it.      
            What my goal today is that all of us think carefully about what a 21st Century peace offering to God might look like.
            While He no longer requires sacrifice, (that ultimate sacrifice has already been given in the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ), we can certainly offer up thanks to Him for His goodness, and some of those “thank offerings” might be tangible offerings. Or they might be offerings of time and service, to the church or someone in need. They might be offerings of money to the church or charitable organization that feeds, clothes, and houses the poor, or one that spreads the Gospel. Certainly it can be songs and words of praise and worship too. I’m not discounting that, especially if you do not have the funds or tangibles to make monetary or physical offerings.
            But so many of us do, and I wonder if we’re falling woefully short on our thank offerings to God. For example:

How quickly did you run out and make an extra donation to the church or charitable organization when your recent raise or bonus arrived in your checking account?

How soon after you received a blessing from God—a significant one—did you make some kind of donation to someone, give an additional hour of your time, go out of your way to help someone, even though it inconvenienced you?

How often do you give God a quick “thank you” prayer and then run off to the next activity and forget or downplay what you’ve been given by the Almighty?

And not feel obligated to do those things, but overflowing with joy to do or give them?

Thankfully, we have a gracious, merciful God who doesn’t go tit-for-tat with us. If He did, we would be in serious trouble down here!

The big questions are: How generous are you toward God? And how thankful are you to Him—really—for the blessings He bestows upon you?

            In a way, I’m preaching to the choir here. I just received notice that I’ve been selected to attend a writers’ workshop with the editors of Guideposts Magazine. It’s a privilege and honor to be selected. One of the editors said the competition was stiff. Yes, I worked hard on my story, but it was God who gave me the theme and talent, and it really is God’s story to begin with. I’m jumping-up-and-down crazy thrilled to have been selected—and I’m already making travel plans for the event—but how thankful, really, am I for this blessing?
            Aside from copious amounts of thank you’s uttered to God, did my heart automatically turn toward thinking about what kind of peace offering—thank offering—I could return to Him?
            I’ll come clean with you. Nope. It did not. It turned toward thinking about me, and all of the fun I was going to have, and everything I was going to learn. Oh, yes, I am deeply grateful and awed, but are those feelings and utterings enough? Maybe, but I feel as if I need to do more, not because I have to or should but because I want to. Do I think God will be mad at me if I don’t? No. Do I think He may be super pleased if I do? Yes.
            God gives and gives and gives, and then He gives some more. And He does so because He can and He loves us, and He is a loving Father. But I’m beginning to realize that as generous as I thought I was, I’m really pretty stingy toward God. And I need to correct that behavior.

            As we end today, I’d like to share a story with you that first appeared in January 2016 edition of Harvest, Gospel for Asia’s newsletter.

            “When Firaki’s husband died, the poor widow struggled to provide for her two children. A physical handicap made walking difficult, and work was a daily struggle. But she knew the love of Jesus and looked to Him to take care of her.
            One year, she received a piglet through Gospel for Asia’s Christmas Gift Catalog. Over time, the piglet grew into a healthy adult pig, and when Firaki sold it, the profits provided enough to care for her needs ands end her daughter to a training course to help her get a good job. Grateful, Firaki gave some of the profits as a thank-offering to the Lord.”

            Amazing. This profoundly poor woman certainly demonstrates her faith through her works. Her faith puts mine to shame…
            One final question: How much different do you think the world would look if we were pouring out peace offerings as thanks for all of the blessings we receive from the Creator?
            It boggles my mind to consider.

Next week, we’ll take another quick look at peace as demonstrated in the thank offering.

Until then, may your week be overflowing with the peace of thanks!

May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

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