Sacrifice

Shelter in THIS Place

I’m not gonna lie. I miss the days of endless chips and salsa brought to my table at a Mexican restaurant. I look forward to a future when the Happy Hour specials are back in force and I can sit across from (or even NEXT to!) a friend to enjoy them. But for the moment, we—like so many—have been ordered to SHELTER IN PLACE.

Huge caveat there, though, because this order (at least for us) doesn’t apply to “essential” products and services. And let’s be honest, the nature and extent of what we consider essential is an indictment against our society and our way of life. But that’s a topic for another day.

For today, I know there are many people who are a little anxious over being saddled with any restrictions on their personal freedoms. A word to the wise, though, from the wise, tells us that “the prudent see danger and take cover, but the simple keep going and suffer the consequences” (Proverbs 22:3). If that isn’t a poignant commentary on our time, I don’t know what is.

Consequences notwithstanding, the current conditions may have you sheltering in a tiny studio apartment, on a sprawling ranch, or somewhere in between. You may be quarantined with a large family or all alone, or again, somewhere in between. You may be lonely, overwhelmed, or stir-crazy. You may be working from home alongside three “coworkers” under the age of five. In any event, I want to share some encouragement with you today.

The Scriptures are jam-packed with verses reminding us that no matter our earthly living arrangements, GOD HIMSELF is our true shelter, our refuge, and our hope (see Psalm 34:8; Psalm 46:1; Psalm 59:16; Psalm 61:3; Psalm 62:8; Psalm 73:28a; Psalm 91:1; Proverbs 18:10; Nahum 1:7). To highlight just a few of these:

Psalm 46:1

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Psalm 61:3

“For You have been my refuge, a tower of strength against the enemy.”

Psalm 73:28a

“But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the LORD GOD my refuge.”

Psalm 91:1

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Proverbs 18:10

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.

Nahum 1:7

“The LORD is good. A strong

hold in the day of trouble,
and He knows those who take refuge in Him.”

So then, let us affirm with Paul that “if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” Yes, wherever you find yourself—in body or in spirit—may you find shelter in THIS place.

 

 

Withholding Good

The Bible is pretty clear about God’s intent that we help others. For instance, Proverbs 3:28-29 says:

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
Do not say to your neighbor,
“Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—
when you already have it with you.

Likewise, James 4:17 admonishes, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

But for whom? For whom are we to do good? The verse above references a “neighbor.” And like the Pharisee, who—trying to justify himself—asked of Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”, we also tend to draw boundary lines on our goodness. But Jesus’ answer doesn’t allow for these artificial boundaries. Instead, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, wherein

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” (Luke 10:30-35).

Through this parable, Jesus taught the lesson that neighbors are not just those closest to us, but also strangers, and even enemies. And in Deuteronomy 10:18-19, we see that we are to “love those who are foreigners,” just as God himself “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” I don’t recall whether I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. There is a Mennonite saying that goes like this: “If I have two coats and my brother has none, then I am stealing from my brother.” This tracks with James’ instruction to the Jewish believers of his day (2:14-17):

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Paul echoed this by instructing us to “share with the Lord’s people who are in need” (Romans 12:13). So then, from whom may we withhold good? Enemies? Strangers? Foreigners? Friends? Family? I’ll let Jesus answer for us (Matthew 25:41-45):

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
I was a stranger and you did not invite me in,
I needed clothes and you did not clothe me,
I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these,
you did not do for me.’

The least of these…who in your life, your path, your sphere of influence, is the least of these?

Lord, may we find them, and do the good we ought.

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Love in Action

Romans 12:1-12 

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—
this is your true and proper worship…. Do not think of yourself more highly
than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment,
in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you….
In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;
if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage,
then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere….
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves….
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.”
 

There is a saying in the Mennonite church that asks, “If I have two coats, and my brother has none, and I do not give him one, am I not stealing from my brother?” This is a sobering challenge, and not just in terms of material goods. I first came across this saying as Mennonites I’ve met have “justified” their choice to donate a kidney, in particular. The fact of the matter is that, at any given moment, there are over 100,000 people awaiting life-saving kidney transplants. Deceased donor kidneys cannot meet this need. And so, there are some of us who feel called to donate—be it to someone we know, or to a stranger. I say “us” because, although I presently have two intact kidneys, I hope to donate one in March.

I’ve prayed over this decision for about eight years, I’ve sought wisdom and counsel literally from across the globe. While the vast majority support me wholeheartedly, a few remain who can’t understand why I would do this. As such, I’ve decided to answer that question, in a blog series I like to call, “The Gift of Life.” It will take a series of entries because I have SO. MANY. REASONS. They would never fit into a single entry. In fact, I struggled deciding where to start, before ultimately jumping in here—with faith in action. Certainly there are many more passages of Scripture, besides those presented here, which could attest to God’s desires regarding HOW we might love one another in action. Indeed, more will likely surface over these next couple of months. But just the two I’ll share today are chock full of guidance.

For instance, Romans 12:1 “urges” us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God? Why? As an act of true and proper worship in response to His great mercy—shown to us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Romans 5:8), and renewed unto us every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Verse 3 goes on to caution each of us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. And sometimes, I think it is this pride, this high opinion of ourselves, which prevents us from sacrificing on behalf of another. We arbitrarily assign value to not only our own lives, but to those of our family, our friends, our [fill in the blank]…. Are not all men (and women) created equal and endowed by our Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? And yet many people will say, “Well, of course I would donate a kidney to my spouse, or my kids, or a close friend.” What does this say about our belief that all lives carry equal value?

Please don’t hear me say that if you do not choose the route of living kidney donation that you are somehow a bad person or a bad Christian. In fact, verses 5-8 suggest that we each have different gifts and callings on our lives. For some, that may be prophecy, for some faith, for some service, for some teaching, for some encouragement, for some generosity, for some leadership, for some mercy…. This list is surely not exhaustive, and we could likely add to it: …for some adoption, for some foster care, for some grief counseling, for some discernment, for some kidney donation, and on and on. Your gift may be something else, but the Scripture is clear that we should USE those gifts for the betterment of the body of Christ and the world around us, to “share with the Lord’s people who are in need” (v. 13). This is what it looks like to honor one another above ourselves (v. 10). And James echoes this sentiment in his letter…

James 2:14-17

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith
but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,”
but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

So then, why kidney donation? Because it is an opportunity to live out the love of God in a world that needs Him—to put my love into action.

Until next time….

Hard Pressed

2 Corinthians 4: 8-9

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 
persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

I’ll never forget when I first learned how to use color crayons. I was in junior high—7th grade, I believe. I know what you’re thinking, that this should be a kindergarten-level skill. And you would be correct, if I were referring to the neat and tidy, gentle, inside-the-lines kind of coloring that we tend to value so much. But in 7th grade art class, I learned how crayons were “meant” to be used. Our teacher knew that she would have an uphill battle trying to change the beliefs and behaviors that had been ingrained in us for some 12 years by that point. But she also knew from experience that there was good to come from all of this re-learning.

She taught us that we needed to press HARD on the crayons. What?! Wasn’t that wasting them? I mean, they would wear out so much faster. That is, if they didn’t break in half from the weight of the pressure. And why?! My coloring up until that point had already earned me high praise throughout my childhood. But I trusted my teacher, and I learned a technique that yielded absolutely beautiful results—vibrant, bold, attention-grabbing.

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I know that Paul wasn’t referring to crayons in his letter to the Corinthians. His analogy above relates more to an active-duty soldier, presumably in battle. Nevertheless, I believe this present analogy holds. The point is that what seems harsh and painful now may yield some great benefit later. Paul continues,

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away,
yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that is far beyond comparison.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

Will we do this also? When we face challenges, hardships, and heartache. When we experience loss, grief, and sadness. Will we trust that our God will not allow us to be crushed or destroyed, that He will not forsake us, even during the most difficult or painful of times? I hope so—for the reward is great.

Dear Lord,

Please comfort those who are mourning, strengthen those who are weak, and work all things together in an intricate and vibrant work of art that declares, “His glory, my good.”

Amen.

 

For Such a Time as This

Esther 4:14 (ESV)

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

If you read the last entry on my blog, you will have read my mom’s adoption story, from her perspective and in her words. This week, I’d like to add a bit of my own commentary, having watched her adoption story, even more as an outsider than I realized. I say this because I remember always feeling like it wasn’t fair that my mom was adopted, only to be relegated to housekeeping chores and other responsibilities beyond the purview of a child.

Adoption, in my mind, was supposed to be magical, joyous, and all the rest. But so often, as I looked on, I saw it as a burden for her. Granted, in seeing what was, I was unaware at the time of what might have been—mafia ties and the like, which appears now to have been the alternative.

Over the years, I think my mom found solace in her parents’ need for her, reasoning that their physical and tangible needs were the reason God placed her in their home. But in my view, that’s only part of the story. Ultimately, we all have physical needs, and we find ways of having them met. But I think that watching my mom’s selflessness, day in and day out for 35 years, made a lasting impression. How do I know this?

Just this past summer, I learned of the day when my grandparents were ageing and in failing health, and my mom sent her pastor to visit with them, and to tell them about Jesus. After the visit, the pastor told my mom that both Grandma and Grandpa had accepted God’s forgiveness and were now secure in their eternal salvation. It seems odd that a virtual stranger could walk into their home and find such accepting and receptive hosts.

And yet, in a way, it’s not surprising at all. It’s not surprising because this stranger was sent by someone who had lived out the mission of Christ in their midst for all those years…she had served them sacrificially, loved them unconditionally, forgiven them repeatedly and undeservedly. Just. Like. Jesus. And I believe that with each act of selflessness, each load of laundry, each Sunday visit (and so much more), they were seeing Jesus. And if you ask me, it wasn’t each of those moments that were God’s purpose for placing her there. It was the moment when each of them said yes to God’s offer of salvation. And I believe that God was watching, thinking of my mom, and whispering to her soul, This. I placed you here for such a time as THIS.

And in truth, God continues to use her in times such as these…to serve a neighbor in need, to reach out to a disheartened coworker, to impact a school child in her care, and on and on. I know that the mundane of her day to day isn’t always glamorous, and that she often feels like she’s still waiting for her calling. But I believe she’s living it every day. So many times, God must be whispering to her soul, I placed you here for such a time as this…and this…and this. Oh, that we would all be willing to live our lives as a reflection of Jesus, and to recognize those times when He has divinely placed us here or there, and for such a time as this.

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Receipts

Galatians 4:4-5

But when the time was right, God sent his Son, born of a woman,
subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law,
so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”

Do you save receipts? I do, although not as religiously as I was raised to. But at some point, don’t we all purge those old receipts. Some we may keep longer than others, but none will last forever. Maybe some we’ll toss out once they’re past the store’s return policy date. Or maybe, if you have a warranty on something, you would save the receipt until the warranty runs out. Or, at the very least, when you do a deep cleaning of your house and you come across receipts that are so old there is literally no ink left on them. If that’s you, come on, it’s time to let go.

Do you know how long God keeps receipts? Try not at all. When God bought us, redeemed us, adopted us, that was it. No return policy, no 100% satisfaction guarantee, no extended warranty. He just paid for us outright, through Jesus’ blood on the cross. He ransomed us from the power of sin, death, hell, and the law, and purchased our freedom. And adopted us as his very own children.

Imagine the most expensive, the most costly, thing you’ve ever purchased. Maybe it was an entertainment system, or a car, or a house. Now imagine shredding the receipt on the spot. I think most of us would be mortified at the thought—at least I know I would. But essentially, that’s exactly what God did for you and for me. His sacrifice, his purchase, his redemption is OURS to accept, to trust, to rest in, to be transformed by, to be grateful for, and to share with others. We don’t have to deserve it or earn it, indeed we never could. But if we do accept this gift, we belong to God, and he stamps us: “ALL SALES FINAL.”
 

Yokes and Vineyards

Matthew 20:10-12

“Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’”

Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I think we’ve been missing something—we as followers of Christ, I mean. This is evident in our responses when we read the parable of the workers in the vineyard. If you’re anything like me, you get a little indignant when you read that those lazy bums who worked less than an hour received the same wage as those who’d put in a full day’s work. It sets off our injustice alarms immediately.

And even when we take this parable out of the context of manual labor and put it into the context of the kingdom of God (which is the context within which Jesus presented it), we get annoyed and a little bit envious. After all, why should these “deathbed conversions” count for as much as our entire lives of service and sacrifice for the kingdom?

Well, the other day, I realized how backward this is, especially if we consider it in light of Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:28-30. When he says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light and that he will give us rest for our souls, those sound like good things. So what if following Jesus and learning to be more and more like him is a privilege, rather than a burden? If we think of it that way, we all of a sudden have a sense of compassion for those who arrive late to the party, who do not have the same opportunities that we’ve had—to work alongside Jesus, to see him work amazing miracles, to communicate with him through prayer, to develop friendships that we never would have otherwise, to receive the blessing of giving, and on and on.

So why do we always turn our discipleship into a burden? Why is our response one of “Woe is me,” rather than one of gratitude and humility? Why do we minimize the honor that it is to follow and serve Jesus? I for one want to embrace every opportunity that I have to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world. And I hope you do, too. God, help us see the privilege that it is to follow you and to do your kingdom work. And help us welcome as many to that work as we can, no matter when they show up.

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Sold!

1 Corinthians 6:20a
“You were bought at a price…”

1 Peter 1:18-19
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

In this day and age, when people keep talking about having great hands, beautiful tax returns, and “the best words,” I have to admit, I have none of those. Well, to be honest, sometimes I actually do have the best words, but that’s only because I have such a love of the English language. But whenever anything like tact or diplomacy are called for, I can be almost guaranteed to NOT have the right words.

Not only that, but I often ask the wrong questions, I seldom have the right answers, I frequently make the wrong choices. And I’m not talking about morally wrong choices (although I’ve made my share of those, too). But I have been known to spend too much on a sweater, or to pass up a pair of pajamas that I absolutely LOVED over a $15 price tag (those Walrus pajamas will haunt me forever). I could go on and on. This may explain why I can spend 15 minutes in the meat aisle at the grocery store, deliberating on which is the right cut of beef for this week’s recipe.

In my shortcomings, though, I have this comfort: for every mistake or misstep I make, for every time I fail or fall short, GOD. NEVER. DOES. He never has. He never will. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was channeling a future Toby Keith—

I don’t want to die for you, but if dying’s asked of me,
I’ll bear that cross with honor, ‘cause freedom don’t come free—

He said yes, and He meant it. He knew everything about you—the good, the bad, the ugly—and He chose you. He bought you, purchased you, redeemed you. He paid the ultimate price for you, because you’re worth it. YOU. ARE. WORTH. IT…to the One who matters most. Don’t ever forget that.

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Who I Am–Part VII

Matthew 16:24-25

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me,
he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it;
but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

I’ve been married almost seven years. But I have to admit, I was never one of those girls who was anxious or eager to get my MRS degree. I had plans, and I worried that marriage would interrupt those plans—be it through an inconvenient move, or an unplanned pregnancy, or any number of other “trials” that sometimes come along with marriage.

But what can you do? I met a great guy and we decided that we might be able to serve God better together than alone. Besides, when the time came to say good-bye and go our separate ways, neither of us really wanted to. So we planned a beautiful but casual wedding—in a barn! And that was before it was “cool” to get married in a barn. But before we got married, I got my most recent tattoo. It’s on the inside of my left wrist, and reads “Surrender” in Arabic.

This was very intentional. I knew that marriage would mean sacrifice. I knew that motherhood would mean sacrifice. Knowing this, I chose to give up any control that I perceived myself to have, in pursuit of the greater good. But making that choice consciously didn’t negate or nullify the sacrifices that would follow. It hasn’t even always made those sacrifices easier. But if they were easy, I guess they wouldn’t be sacrifices.

As I’ve thought about this truth over the past few days, it occurs to me how perfectly suited this entry is for today—Easter. Jesus, after all, is also well acquainted with the ideas of sacrifice and surrender. He chose to submit to the Heavenly Father’s will, to come to earth, and to humble himself, taking on human flesh. He laid down the rights of his deity, and then he laid down his very life as a sacrifice for our sins. And we sometimes console ourselves with the delusion that, because this sacrifice was undertaken willingly, it was somehow less sacrificial and less requiring of surrender. But the Bible makes clear that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even knowing the glory set before him on the other side of the grave, Jesus pleaded with God the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). As if that wasn’t enough, Luke 22:44 tells us that “in His anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

And if surrender and sacrifice were so taxing to Jesus’s spirit, how can we expect anything less? Our lives will offer these opportunities and invitations over and over again, until we are ultimately called home. When they come my way, I do my best to hold open hands up to the heavens in acceptance of God’s will. And when I do, I’m reminded of that word—surrender. I’m convinced that Jesus also holds his hands out in front of him from time to time. But instead of his scars reminding him of surrender or sacrifice, they remind him of you and of me. It is as though his hands are tattooed with the word beloved…along with each of our names.

Isaiah 49:16

“Look, I have inscribed your name on my palms; your walls are constantly before me.” 

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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.