Perseverance

The Cost of Sacrifice

2 Samuel 24:24

“But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it.
I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and
paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

In 1988, Bobby Michaels released a song entitled, “Anything that Costs Me Nothing.” It’s a great song–you should check it out. Surely, he was inspired by King David’s response to Araunah in 2 Samuel 24:24. You see, Araunah had offered to give the king a threshing floor and oxen that he planned to use for a sacrifice to God. But King David replied, “‘No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.’ So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.”

Whenever illness strikes a friend, a neighbor, or a family member, I think to myself, “That should be me.” It must sound morbid, I know, but I have always longed so deeply for heaven and have been so anxious to meet my Heavenly Father, that I know my response to such a diagnosis would surely honor and glorify Him. I’m sure of it. But maybe that’s why God hasn’t chosen that path for me. Oh, of course, it would require some sacrifices. I would give up the chance to watch my children grow up and to have them know and remember me. I would give up the chance to someday meet and hold and love my grandchildren. But truly, it wouldn’t be the same for me as I know it is for some. And just as they must offer their lives as a costly sacrifice for the God they love and serve, so must I.

For me, that sacrifice may mean a lengthy stay here on earth, in a land that is foreign to me and one that could never feel quite like home. It may mean many years of hoping and trusting in what I cannot see. It will surely require me to rely and lean on God in my weaknesses and amid my failures. And when I feel that unbearable sense of separation from Him and long to be closer, to be held in His strong but gentle arms, I must remember that this is my sacrifice, and that its value lies in its cost. I pray always that it would be a cost that I would bear gladly.

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The Race

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Hebrews 12:1

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”

Run the race with perseverance. Other translations replace the word “perseverance” with the word “endurance,” indicating that this verse is not referring to a sprint. Instead, it’s a cross-country endeavor. Think of it as a marathon. Today, as Christians around the world celebrate the freedom and forgiveness we have in Christ, our family is celebrating the completion of Chris’s 36th lap of this marathon called life.

As with any race, this life is filled with ups and downs, ins and outs. This past lap has been filled with smiles and laughs, friends and family. But it has also been filled with mundane routines, tired mornings from sleeping in a bed full of “snuggle puppies” (a.k.a. toddlers), and—most recently—POTTY TRAINING!

But through all of it, we’re in it together. Patrick, from Marathon Nation, states that “there’s no doubt that having a companion to share your miles can help breathe the life back into your training. From sharing a few laughs to pushing your limits, the right running partner will help you grow as a runner” (http://www.marathonnation.us/marathon-training/running-with-a-partner/).

So, to Chris: I am honored to run beside you through all of the joys, celebrations, expectations, uncertainties, challenges, disappointments, and setbacks that we face in this life. And I think, as we sit on our porch sipping lemonade another 36 laps from now, we’ll look back at all of these milestones, and we’ll see that all of them have been blessings. Happy birthday!

Redeemed unto Reconciliation

That we as Christians have been given the ministry of reconciliation isn’t exactly news. After all, Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 5:18 that God “reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” He also said that, as far as it depends on us, we are to “be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). But, if you’re anything like me, this is one of those things that falls squarely into the ‘easier said than done’ category. So I welcomed the recent sermon series that our pastor preached on this subject. While I learned a lot from the entire four-week series, I can also say that there were several “tweetable” tidbits (c/o @bradyherbert) that really spoke to me. I hope they will speak to all of you as well.

  1. When we look for God’s goodness in someone, it’s impossible to make them our enemy. And I would add that when we look for the good that God might be working both in and through that person, we are better able to move toward reconciliation. This concept reminds me of a strategy you’ve probably heard about before. When we pray for others (and more specifically, our enemies), we are drawn to them and God gives us a greater level of compassion for them. Of course, that means that we pray for God’s blessings in their lives. We pray that He would comfort, guide, and—yes—convict. But we don’t pray that they would ‘get what’s coming to them.’ We don’t pray that God would ‘smite’ them. We pray for God’s best for them. And in the process, we are changed.
  2. I can forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in me. This logic requires that we identify and acknowledge what I like to call our ‘Mother of All Sins’ (M.O.A.S). If you can’t admit that you’ve ever done anything inexcusable, if you can’t understand why Jesus had to die for your sins, this will be VERY hard—if not impossible—to do. Now, I know what some of you are saying: “No, that’s not right—all sin is the same to God.” And you’re right. But all sin is NOT the same to US. If you steal a pen from work, there is no way you’re going to feel a sense of grief over your sin. If you were to kill someone—and I’m not suggesting that you should—you would feel a much greater sense of remorse. So we, as finite humans, tend to rank sins from least to most egregious. Then we set a threshold beyond which sins are ‘worth’ Christ’s sacrifice. And each of us needs to identify and OWN whatever sin or sins we feel are worth that punishment. This can be especially hard if you’ve grown up in the church. Many ‘lifelong’ believers lament that they “don’t have a testimony” because they never joined a gang or got into drugs or what have you. But you MUST find your testimony. I believe that the best way to do this is to pray, humbly asking God to reveal to you your areas of weakness and sin, so that you can repent.
  3. If someone refuses to repent, “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18: 17). Our pastor, Brady, rightly pointed out how many of us use this verse as a license to wash our hands of another and throw them out of the church. I have to confess, that’s how I’ve always read that verse. But if you think about it, that’s not at all how Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors. He pursued them, he loved them, he sought reconciliation with them, and—lest we forget—he DIED for them. I find that I often judge nonbelievers less harshly than I do other Christians. I mean, Christians should know better, right? But if a believer is caught in sin, or is unwilling to reconcile, then we must conclude that something is keeping them from embracing the salvation that they claim. Thinking of it that way, I feel led to respond with compassion and sympathy, and to pray that they would be reconciled first with God, and then with the Church. And one more thing: we can never give up. I’ve heard of believing parents with children who have gone astray. They pray constantly for many years and they NEVER give up on their kids’ souls. That is the essence of the parables of the prodigal son, the lost sheep, and the missing coin. And our love and compassion should be as relentless as God’s.
  4. We must awaken the desire for reconciliation. The final message in this series offered a lot of practical tips to help us move from a place of knowing that we should reconcile, or believing that we can reconcile, to a place where we can honestly say that we want to reconcile. Here are some of the biggies:
  • We need to develop empathy and compassion for those with whom we seek to reconcile.
  • We need to avoid the temptation to morally ‘separate ourselves’ from the other person—essentially viewing them as inferior to ourselves. Instead, we need to find a common ground from which we can reach out in love, grace, and mercy.
  • We need to remember that we are all created in the image of God and are worth of being treated with human dignity. And finally,
  • We need to remember that we ourselves are finite beings and that God may be working an angle that we can’t see—or possibly even imagine.

So, when we think about all of these pieces in the puzzle of reconciliation, I hope that we are each prompted to take a step or two in that direction. And in that way, one small step after another, we will hopefully end up a lot closer to the peace that we are called to pursue.

Seven-eighths

I had certain plans in mind for this week’s blog, but today I was made aware that this is Mental Health Awareness Week. So, having a bit of personal experience in that area, I thought I’d take a moment to acknowledge others who may also be struggling. If you ask my friends and family to describe my personality, they might tell you that I’m melancholy. Or, they might describe me as cynical. I tend to describe myself as a “glass seven-eighths empty” kind of person. Now, that may or may not come across in my blog entries, and that may or may not be the Zoloft talking—but whatever the case may be, I have a great deal of sympathy for people near to and distant from me who struggle with all varieties of mental illness and related challenges. Even people who don’t suffer from a diagnosable mental illness can experience bouts of sadness, doubt, low self-esteem, anxiety, stress, you name it.

It would appear from various sources of research that mental illness is on the rise and especially so in America. Now, certainly, that is partly attributable to higher rates of diagnosis, greater possibilities for effective treatment, and a lifting of the stigma that once accompanied an “admission” of anything but the most stable mental and emotional condition. But also most certainly, there are a lot of sources of discontent out there that are inhibiting many from embracing the abundant life that God intended for them. We can see that even in the rash of celebrity suicides that seems to have plagued our society during the recent years.

A view that is very common among those struggling with mental health issues is that things will never get better. From experience, I can say—no, I can PROMISE—that they do. As a young girl, I wrote a lot of poetry. Nowadays, I have found other outlets for self-expression, and I write many fewer poems. But for this blog, I searched through an old notebook to find just the right one to close with:

Too Weary Have I Grown
(April 11, 1995)IMG_7267

I cannot
No longer have I the strength
No longer can I carry on
I tried, and thought I could,
But too heavy is the load I carry
Too long is the path I face
Too weary have I grown
Too many are my burdens
Too few are my allies
Too distant are the pleasures of this journey
And I cannot go on.

 

If you can relate to these feelings, then believe me when I say that you CAN go on.