Fishbowl Faithfulness – Part IV

Psalm 50 reflects the themes of our narrative thus far, including creation, judgment, and the hope of restoring innocence, honor, and power to the relationship between God and His people. In the first half of the Psalm, God appears in His creation to judge His people. The type of people in focus in the first half are those who keep their religious duties, but they lack a true “sacrifice of thanksgiving.” Such a sacrifice testifies to complete dependence and trust on God, as opposed to the performance and achievement possible through various religious duties. God’s people depend on Him, but He is not dependent upon their sacrifices. In the first part of Psalm 50, God responds to the group of those who “do” sacrifice, inviting them to “be” a sacrifice. “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving…Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me” (50:14-15).

Now God turns His attention to a second group. This group of people, “the wicked,” are those participating in the activities of His people, though their lives do not reflect their words. Their so-called beliefs do not correspond to their actual lifestyles. To this group, God promises harsh judgment. God proceeds to call for the same response, “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; And to him who orders his way aright, I shall show the salvation of God” (50:23).

A return to fishbowl faithfulness that honors God requires a “sacrifice” of thanksgiving. This is a sacrifice of gratitude. David identifies this in the very next Psalm as the type of sacrifice which God accepts, “a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” (51:17). This type of sacrifice involves our “being” before our “doing.” Our lives belong to Him when we offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and not to ourselves. Therefore, because we are His, we obey and follow Him in His mission.

In giving thought to our lives as a sacrifice of thanksgiving, let us consider the focus of our gratitude. When we write a list to describe why we are thankful, it is easy to detail the conveniences which make our life more comfortable. For example, the most common response that we hear from those visiting Pucallpa for the first time goes something like this: “I want to return home and be more thankful for the blessings that I have, which I take for granted. Everyone here has so little, but they seem so happy.” This example is not a criticism, for we ourselves initially reacted this way when encountering a whole different world. However, we must move beyond sentimental thankfulness that can actually focus on self-preservation – the very thing that prevents us from making a true sacrifice of thanksgiving.  To be more specific, our plethora of choices (or comforts) subtly convey the message that we own our lives and can live them according to our desires. We live in a system that instructs us to “save” first for ourselves, and then “give,” as long as our security remains intact. This occurs in all areas of our lives, from possessions to finances to health to energy to relationships to time. Yet Jesus clearly warns us that we will “lose” our life by trying to “save” it (Mark 8:35).

In Mark 12:13-17, Jesus faced the crafty serpent’s partial truths, when the Herodians and Pharisees tried to trap Him. First, through their partial truths, they flatter Him by saying they know that He teaches the “way of God in truth.” But there is a twist. The Herodians were influential Jews who supported the Roman empire. Their religion essentially connected them to human power for the purpose controlling their own interests through the political system. They question Jesus with a twist, “Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” Jesus responds by drawing their attention to the inscription on their coins. Then He declares, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Let him have his poll tax. But Jesus continued, “and [render] to God the things that are God’s.” A poll tax does not even compare to what belongs to God. The final story in this section illustrates Jesus’ point in a simple and very uncomfortable example. A poor widow deposits in the temple treasury what many rich people could not do, even with their “large sums.” Jesus explained, “this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” In other words, she offered herself as sacrifice of thanksgiving. She would depend on God for her next meal, while we can imagine that the others walked away and likely gave thanks for their surplus of blessings.

After one of the most amazing signs Jesus performed, the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, the Pharisees schemed to kill him. Their reason should shock us, “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48). Political ambition motivated by self-preservation has distracted “Church” (religious) people before there was even a Church, and this continues today. Consider how our King, when brought before the political king of that day, Herod, refused to speak. Yet He would not long after cry out to His Father from the cross, for all the world to hear. Reciting Psalm 22, Jesus cried out for rescue. This is the very sacrifice of thanksgiving that God declared would honor Him in Psalm 50. Jesus humbled Himself, and He took on flesh. He stepped into the limits (fishbowl) His Father appointed for Him, and He learned obedience, even to the point of death on a cross. Indeed, the Father heard His cry, and He raised up His Son and exalted Him, bestowing upon Him honor that no worldly king can fathom (Philippians 2). He is our King, and our lives belong to Him for His honor.

As citizens of His kingdom, consider the dynamic throughout this kingdom’s history of faithfulness within its limits (fishbowls), and the unlimited outcome of its mission. God commissioned the first human beings to fill the earth and subdue it, and then He placed them in a garden to cultivate faithfulness. God commissioned Israel to be a light to the Gentiles, a blessing to all the families of the earth. Then He placed them in a small strip of land where they were to dwell and cultivate faithfulness. God sent Jesus because He loved the whole world and would make all things new through Him. Jesus was born to an unassuming young teenager, who married a common carpenter; they lived in a town only known for how unremarkable it was in the eyes of others. Jesus carried out His ministry for only three years, after thirty years of normalcy, at least in the eyes of his immediate neighbors, both within His family and His hometown. When He began His ministry, He chose only twelve to be His disciples, and many of these left fishing to follow Him. Fishing in the land of many options is a popular sport, with a world of marketing and products to undergird it. Here in Pucallpa, like in Galilee, those who fish do so daily as a necessary part of life. These disciples did not just leave a career choice when they laid down their nets, they laid down their lives. After three years, Jesus gave them the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. This could not be accomplished without obeying the Great Commandment, which called for total love for God, and love of neighbor that mirrored love of self. Love of self must be one and the same as love for neighbor. Love of self must not surpass love for neighbor, in fact, it must compel love for our neighbor.

By focusing on His neighbors, however obscure and unremarkable in the eyes of others, Jesus’ example challenges our tendency to pursue “big” impact in life and ministry. He did not commission His disciples to lead neighborhoods, cities, regions, or even nations to salvation. Rather, He sent them to make disciples of all the nations. The Father did not send the Holy Spirit to save Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the remotest parts of the earth. The presence of God’s Spirit empowers His people to “be” witnesses to those in all of these places. The presence of His Spirit is “God with us.” Fishbowl faithfulness seeks to be with God first and foremost. With Him, we hear Him, and we obey Him. With Him, His mission is accomplished in the lives of those we love in His name. He produces the fruit, or results, for His own glory. Too often we have bypassed small faithfulness by seeking bigger and better results. These results glorify ourselves. God’s mission will lead to a new heaven and earth filled with His glory. The vision for this truly “big” fulfillment portrays a new city, a new garden, in which God once again dwells with His people. This heavenly city (fishbowl) will fill the whole earth (Revelation 21).

Questions for reflection:

  • With which group from Psalm 50 do we sometimes find ourselves and why – among those weary of trying to “do” good enough, or among those pretending that we belong to Him, when our lifestyles reveal otherwise?
  • Before reading Part IV of this series, how would we have filled out a list detailing all that we are thankful for, and what would this list reflect about us?
  • How is God calling us to “be” a living sacrifice of thanksgiving?
[Watch for Part V, the conclusion of this series, where we will detail the vision before us for a life of fishbowl faithfulness through a sacrifice of thanksgiving].

In Him,

Mark, Kristin, Caleb, Jacob, and Rachel Coté

Missionaries of Discipleship and Development based in Pucallpa, Peru (see the most recent post that we wrote)

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