The Sacrifice of Thankfulness: Lessons from Leviticus

“In ancient Israel, the depth of their gratitude was so great that singing a song wasn’t enough… Saying a prayer wasn’t enough. Their sacrifice was costly…
…The depth of their thankfulness was so great that the expression of their thankfulness had to be equally great.”
– Dr. Jay Sklar, Covenant Seminary
(Adapted from a talk I am giving at a Cru at Mizzou Women’s Conference)

In college, you have your whole life before you. You have opportunities to see the world, give a year or two of your life to go somewhere you’ve never been and serve in ways that push you out of your comfort zone.  There is a call to take steps of faith, broaden our horizons and climb new mountains. The New Testament book of Matthew tells us that Jesus himself tells us to GO and make disciples. And all of that is scary and unknown and exciting.

But eventually, wherever you go and whatever you do will become less scary because it will be known and then eventually and naturally less exciting, too. Unless you keep GO-ing to new places for the rest of your life (which I do believe some, but very few are called to do) for most of us, the abnormal will become… just normal and what felt so extraordinary will eventually become… just ordinary. What if much of the Christian life is about walking with God in those normal, ordinary moments and more about being thankful and faithful in the boring, unseen events of life than continuing to GO, do something grand, and have some big cause? What if the big cause is just walking with Christ in wherever He has you? Whether as a wife or a mom or a teacher or a neighbor or whatever?

That’s where some of our expectations may be in conflict- the Christian life that was supposed to be so exciting (and still is in some ways) is also kind of… boring. That camp or summer mission high just isn’t able to be sustained and there are real life responsibilities and boring things like washing your dishes and buying groceries and responding to emails and maybe someday wiping little bottoms like me. As much as fun and exciting and biblical to motivate toward GO, there may not always be the training and encouragement for when you’ve GONE and now it’s time to STAY. When real life settles in and you’re tired of your boss or kids or your neighbors or your husband or your church and in STAYING  there are real hurts and real disapointments. How do I keep relating to God and giving thanks in those places that aren’t so exciting… or do I just GO…again?

A recent book that’s come out called The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations through a daily apprenticeship with Jesus talks about what it means to walk with God in faithfulness in the unseen, ordinary, often mundane places.

He calls it the anticlimax of the Christian life.

As I was preparing my thoughts about what it means to give thanks in the mundane, I couldn’t help but browse a little on Kara Tippen’s website. Maybe you’ve heard of her- her story has become well known- she’s s a mom of 4 who devastatingly lost her life to cancer recently and she chronicled her journey on a blog called Mundane Faithfulness. As I scanned a few posts I found this verse:

I will offer to you the sacrifice of THANKSGIVING
and call on the name of the LORD. Psalm 116:17

It got me thinking about the sacrifice of thanksgiving, about the cost. The cost for that mom to give thanks in the midst of dying and leaving husband and four children behind. The sacrifice that that must have been. What had it cost her to give thanks in that?

What does your mundane look like?  What are the monotonous things that happen over & over again that wear on you?

My mundane is sippy cups & stoppers. Wrapping poopy diapers in plastic bags and walking them to the trash in the garage. Lots of Crying. Screaming. WHINING!!!!!!! And that’s just my husband, let alone my kids 😉 Making sure the girls have socks to wear in the morning (no thought if they match- I seriously don’t care). Singing to them at bedtime and yell at me to change the song as I’m singing from Silent Night to O Holy Night to Jingle Bells without finishing even one… Sitting down at night and hearing one the girls’ sound machines as they open their door again or hearing a baby cry when I just want to relax.

My mundane, ordinary, non glamorous world.

What does it cost you…  What do you feel you personally sacrifice when you choose to give thanks in your mundane world?  What is in direct conflict or mutually exclusive with thankfulness that has to die if thankfulness wins?

For me, it’s my entitlement, my “rights”- my right to sit down or be sad or grouchy or to wallow. I deserve this hour off. I can’t keep going. You’re interrupting my down time.


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Leviticus 1:14 by Ohlin on ImageKind.

Interestingly enough, the idea of thanksgiving being a sacrifice goes deeper and broader than just a thought this psalmist had. In fact, for God’s people in the Old Testament, it was built into their lives and into their very way of relating to God. We see that in the third book of the Bible, Leviticus.

In the story of God’s people throughout the first 2 books of the Bible- Genesis & Exodus, God and the Israelites had been through some highlights and some lowlights. They had seen God do great & wondrous things on their behalf… and they had also had long seasons of feeling abandoned by God and then grumbling and complaining and unbelief and wandering around aimlessly- both literally and figuratively in their “walks with God.”

And when the book of Leviticus begins, the Israelites- God’s people- had come out of Egypt and were standing at Mt Sinai. In spite of all their up’s & down’s, God has decided not to leave them but to dwell among them and to go with them into their future, as their “next door neighbor” so to speak. And to do that, he sets up some rituals and laws as a way to frame the way they are going to relate to one another. These are recorded by Moses in the book of Leviticus.

Generally, we look at the book of Leviticus- full of these laws and rituals- and think of it as obsolete and irrelevant. Maybe you’ve done the 1 year Bible and got to Leviticus and thought Nah, maybe I’ll read the Harry Potter series this semester. We feel like it doesn’t apply and we just need to get to Jesus in the New Testament.  But the new testament writers thought Leviticus was important- so much so that it’s the 6th most quoted book of OT. Recently, I’ve listed to several online lectures by Jay Sklaar, one of my husband’s professors at Covenant Seminary, who devoted over 10 years of his life to studying the book of Leviticus, and I owe a lot of these thoughts to him.

How can the holy God of the universe live in our midst?! God’s answer: Leviticus.

Leviticus teaches the people of God how to live in relationship with God.
It shows God’s holiness as a prime/ key motivation for obedience.
The themes & concepts in this book are all central to Jesus’ life & ministry.
And professor Sklar would say that “without understanding the concepts of Lev, you cannot fully understand what Jesus did on the cross…. that you cannot just ignore the book of Leviticus because the law actually “provides a window into heart of god….Because when you study the law, you get a window into heart & values of law giver.” Compelling.
“Without understanding the concepts of Leviticus, you cannot fully understand what Jesus did on the cross…
You cannot just ignore the book of Leviticus because the law actually provides a window into heart of god….Because when you study the law, you get a window into heart & values of law giver.”
                                                        -Dr. Jay Sklar, Covenant Seminary

To give some overall context, there are 5 main types of offerings, or sacrifices- the primary purpose of which were to point to Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice. That a blameless sacrifice must be given. It all makes Jesus the hero because He is the lamb of God.

We see: The Burnt Offering, The Grain Offering, The Sin Offering, The Guilt Offering…

And lastly, the Peace/ Fellowship Offering. And it’s very different from the others. It is a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

It’s the offering where God’s people come in response to something God has done on their behalf and give thanks. So, the thoughts I’m going to share with you about what it means to offer a sacrifice of thankfulness, are framed by this old testament tradition in these 3 ways:

GIVING THANKS is ritualistic

GIVING THANKS is relational

GIVING THANKS involves a cost. And that cost is death.

Read Leviticus 7.


leviticus.jpg

1. Giving thanks is ritualistic. 

The book of Leviticus contains a lot of ritual. But in general, unless you grew up in an Anglican, Catholic or Episcopalian tradition, you may not be used to much ritual in a worship service. And certainly not in the ways you see in this Old Testament book.
So we can tend to think of ritual as a bad thing. We don’t do that today.
But try to think- What are some rituals we celebrate? What about weddings, funerals, baptisms… and birthdays? Some of the most important things in our lives are marked by ritual. Ritual serves to set apart an event as important or that means a lot to us. Or sometimes to help us through a major transition in life.

For the Israelites, God was setting up a ritual of thanksgiving. Just like we sing Happy Birthday and blow out the candles at birthday party, God was setting up a ritual- a tradition- carving out space to give thanks.

But it wasn’t just ritual- it wasn’t going through the motions of giving thanks. It was also highly relational.

2. Giving thanks is relational.

That’s why it’s called the fellowship offering. Unlike every other sacrifice, the peace/ fellowship offering was the only one where the Israelites- the offerers partook of the offering and actually ate the meat. And that is the key to understanding this offering- it was a shared meal between the offerer and the Lord and it centered around thanks. Of course the Lord didn’t really eat it- it was a pleasing aroma. It was symbolic.
And in order to understand the fellowship aspect, we must understand how a meal functioned in ancient Israel- that it was a sign of hospitality- but much more than that- it was a sign of covenant relationship. And covenant represented the closest relationship you could have with someone that wasn’t a member of your family. This was seen as a shared meal with the Lord.

Hannah in the book of 1 Samuel is an example of someone bringing their fellowship offering in response to God doing something on her behalf- She had waited and longed for a son and God heard her prayer. She came and brought a fellowship offering.

The fellowship offering meant connecting with the Lord Himself and celebrating His faithfulness and wondrous provision. It was a ritual– which really meant it was important and on their calendars- they made time and space for it- again and again and again. But it was also relational. They were connecting with God over a meal. God wanted there to be a sense of intimacy, not distance in their thanks.

Lastly…

3. Giving thanks involves a cost- and that cost is death.

When you think about ways to express thanks to God, what do you think of? Praise? Prayer? Hymns? Giving?  In ancient Israel, the depth of their gratitude was so great that signing a song wasn’t enough… Saying a prayer wasn’t enough. There sacrifice was costly… The depth of their thankfulness was so great that the expression of their thankfulness had to be equally great.
This is what we see in the fellowship offering. It cost them time to get the animal and go through the ritual. It cost them money- sacrificing a bull or a goat or a bird was like losing one of their employees because it brought them part of their livelihood. And God had certain requirements- he wanted their best. He would not allow a lame or blind animal to be given because it did not cost them.
There was also an emphasis on the fat being offered to the Lord (the kidneys with the fat, the covering of the liver also called the “fatty net”)… In our culture, we look at fat as something negative, a health concern. But in reality, it’s the best part of the animal. The fat adds the flavor, the taste. If you’ve ever watched food network, you might be familiar with Paula Dean. She is known for “booder & owl” (i.e.: butter and oil). I’m sorry, but stack any cooking light recipe next to something by Paula Dean and I will choose Paula any day of the week. That’s because the fat is the best. And that’s what God wanted.

 

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Kristin Wiig does an AMAZING Paula Dean impression.

So, what does it mean to offer thankfulness at great cost… to you?

Since Jesus, we no longer need the sacrificial system. But as we peer through the window into the heart of the Law giver and the heart of the One who created those rituals, perhaps we haven’t been the time to ritually (i.e.: regularly) give thanks to the One who has worked on our behalf. Maybe there is still something in us today that when it comes to responding to God in thanks, we come with our blind bird because we don’t want it to cost us much… or we want to withhold the fat- the part of sacrifice that makes it costly. Maybe we can say the words, but when it comes to actually connecting with God- we have things that keep us from wanting to share a meal with Him in the first place.

What would it cost to give thanks in your present circumstances?

Maybe it’s your freedom to BAM. A friend introduced me to this term on Sunday night referring to: “Bitching and moaning.” Our flesh wants to play the victim and craves a sense of sympathy from others- I know mine does- but in reality BAM’ing is a black hole that never, ever satisfies. Choosing thankfulness costs me my right to complain, to whine, to BAM. And I love to BAM. But this type of whining is mutually exclusive to an attitude of gratitude. They’re like oil and water- they don’t mix. So I put BAM on the altar as my sacrifice.

“… But this type of whining is mutually exclusive to an attitude of gratitude. They’re like oil and water- they don’t mix. So I put BAM on the altar as my sacrifice.”

Maybe it costs you the freedom to daydream about greener grass out there. Maybe you’re like me and you like to fantasize about future. Maybe it costs you taking your fantasies of greener grass captive and laying them on the altar before God, letting discontentment and unnecessary unhappiness die a painful death.

Or maybe it costs you an actual opportunity. Maybe it’s literally saying no to something that could be an escape from all your current realities. And I’m certainly not saying there aren’t times to get out of a bad situation and just give thanks or that going means you’re not thankful. You guys have your whole lives in front of you and for me, when I was your age, I studied abroad, went on STINT, I went to Thailand, New Zealand, Africa and too many other places to name now- so Go! Do great things! Serve God in your careers, plant a church, travel, whatever. But my point is that eventually even in Africa, once you get there, you still have a mundane life that you have to embrace. And it’s filled with normal, non glamorous things and people who drive you crazy. So sometimes there are “opportunities” that come along that sound appealing or exciting but I’m just saying there are also times to say no and stay and offer your sacrifice of thankfulness. And as we grow in our awareness and gratitude for who God is and His wondrous works in our life, we will grow in our capacity and desire to lay  these things and other “rights” on the altar before God. And He will be there with us and receive that cost as a fragrant offering and meet all our needs through Christ. And then some.

Zech 4:10 says, “Do not despise the day of small things.” Whatever your mundane, whatever those little things in your life that are weighing you down, the people God has put in your little world- do not despise it. But bring to the Lord your best most costly sacrifice of thanksgiving, letting die whatever would hold you back from an attitude of gratitude and trusting Him to meet you at that altar in your kitchen or bedroom or classroom and care for all your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus.


Discussion questions:

1. “So what if much of the Christian life is about walking with God in those normal, ordinary moments and more about being faithful and thankful in the boring, unseen events of life than continuing to GO, do something grand, and have some big cause? What if the big cause is just walking with Christ in thankfulness wherever He has you? Whether as a wife or a mom or a teacher or a neighbor or whatever?”

How is this different from your expectations for the Christian life- either from what you’ve heard- or just want you hope? What is your emotional response- Disappointment? Relief? Something else?  

2. “The depth of their  [the Israelites’] thankfulness was so great that the expression of their thankfulness had to be equally great.”

Does the depth of your thankfulness appropriately correspond to God’s faithfulness to you throughout your life? What would it cost you to have a “great expression of thankfulness”? (i.e.: BAM? Daydreaming about greener grass? Saying no to an opportunity and yes to gratitude in the present? Something else?)

One Comment on “The Sacrifice of Thankfulness: Lessons from Leviticus

  1. Pingback: Fire Tablet Giveaway Blog Tour 2016 | eQuipping for eMinistry

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