On the Altar

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.
(Genesis 22:9)

Well friends, I’m back after a protracted blogging hiatus. At least, I’m partially back. There are several competitors for my time these days, most of which occur in my analog life.  But I have missed you and am trying to read a handful of posts each day.

This is a crazy season for our family. My girls are thriving – exploring who they are, growing in faith, and learning some important communication and time-management skills (because, really, this fall has been brutal schedule-wise).  It’s been insane but in a fun and exhilarating way.

Then there’s our prodigal… In his case, this life season is something less than exhilarating. Something much less.

But as I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed for him and for others who resist the Lord’s call to obedience, it’s my own resistance which I’m forced to confront.

Once again, God brings my attention back to the beginning – both the book of Genesis and the genesis of my own faith journey.

Figuratively speaking, I trek in the footsteps of Abraham as he traveled to Moriah along with Isaac, the promised son. For much of my calling is a call to sacrifice.

For perhaps the first time, I find myself more like Abraham on this trip. In the past when my King has called for me to meet with Him in the smoke of a sacrifice, I’ve hesitated. In moments I’m now ashamed of, I’ve even been guilty of begrudging Him the offering He’s asked of me.

Not today.

Today as I step up to the altar, the ashes of the past serve as reminders of the things I’ve burned here before and of what’s become of them.

The ashes of a career lays in the mix; remnants of the time I offered up my aspirations and financial comfort on these old stones. Though I barely knew my Lord back then and believed I would be staying home for 5 or 6 years, experience now superimposes the glory of God over the sooty remains.

I became a homeschool mom. The 5 or 6 year span stretched out into 17 years and counting.

Today I can say, as Abraham once did, “The Lord will provide,” because He has – far more than I would’ve guessed. My sacrifice seemed large at the time, but what God provided in the aftermath is massive. Superfluous even.

So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
(Genesis 22:14)

Since those early years, God has called me back to the altar from time to time and other remains lay scattered in the dust; charred fragments of my time, my convenience, my preferences, many of my dreams, my sense of control – a whole lot of me, when I think of it.

Not for nothing did the old German preacher, Dietrich Bonhoeffer write, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Much of what Christ called me to sacrifice on this altar is myself. Just as He once did. His immaculate life for me and my grubby little speck of a life for Him. Words can’t do it justice.

Today, I once more stand symbolically where Abraham, my father according to the Promise, once stood literally; feet covered in ash but a heart full of trust. For now I know that anything I offer up in obedience to His call will not die in vain. Either its death is a necessity for the better plan of the All-Knowing God, or He can and will raise it from the dead. I have not only read of this matter in the Book, I have seen it with my own eyes.

This time, I approach with a dual offering.

For the first, I lay down my goals for You, Lord. On this altar I place the writing career I’ve been trying to eke out in my spare time over the last couple of years. Do with it as You will.

And for the most profound, I give you the son of my womb whose name translates, “He gave.” You did give him to us, and you know him better than I ever could. I have done with him all I know to do and he is now nearly a man. And Lord, it grieves me immensely to say he seems to be rejecting You.

I set the life of my son on this altar before You, Lord, trusting that even if I must watch his faith in You die, You are able to raise it up from the dead.

He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
(Hebrews 11:19)

And I wait with eager expectation to see what You will do…

Assassination of Self

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh…
…For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:11, 17-18)

The call to homeschool is a call to sacrifice.

No, wait. It’s been on my mind lately as I’ve found myself advocating for a troubled young lady. But there’s more to it. Hmmm, maybe –

The call to be a parent is a call to sacrifice.

No, no. Not there yet. To be married? Single? To work? To stay home with your kids? Be a missionary? Be a friend? Be alone? Write? Eat? Breathe?

Ah, yes. It’s all of those and more.

The call to follow Christ is a call to sacrifice.

Or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated it:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our  lives to death… When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.  (from The Cost of Discipleship)

Let me speak frankly here, my friends. The more I walk and talk with my King; the more I read His word and put it into practice, the more I surrender to Him and learn to trust Him, the more I see the beauty in sacrifice. In death.

Last week, I wrote to you about a confession of my own sin and of the good which came of being hurt by church. Today I can tell you I still feel free from the taint of bitterness. But it was not a process either quick nor comfortable. It was long and terrible, for the root of bitterness was wound tightly around not only my heart, but around everything else as well. And it did not begin with confession – it ended there.

In some ways, it was nothing short of spiritual open-heart surgery. Or, if you will, circumcision of the heart. It was painful. It was bloody. And it was completely worth it.

And there’s the thing – no matter what the King of kings calls us to give up in this life – even if it’s hurt feelings or pride or selfish ambition – it is worth it. Not only will it be worth it for the next bazillion years, it will be worth it here and now.

An image comes to mind here from one of my pastor’s sermons. He spoke of putting to the sword any temptations, selfishness, envy, pride – literally anything which distracts you from the Lord.

Guys, let’s be real here. These are not vague words encompassing ideas of “bad stuff” to avoid. These can even be good things. Praise music. Family visits. Fun times. Entertainment. Anything which has become an idol for us and merits more attention than the God who gave them to us must go. Anything. 

(…and a quick aside for the record, I am not advocating putting your family or your movie collection to the sword! Just the idolatrous misplacement of our own affections…)

Whatever it is which entices us away from the Lord’s best, from growth and humility and Truth, we need to put it to the sword – the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

Let’s think about the use of a sword for a moment. To put anything to death by the sword, there’s a necessary intimacy. A gun is cold and impersonal; the slight pressure of a single finger and the deed is done. I can shoot from the relative anonymity of a passing car or a window. I can put a neat bullet hole right into a skull without ever seeing the face of the one I robbed of life.

Not so with the sword. To put a person to death with a sword takes proximity. There’s some degree of effort involved, as even a sharp blade will not penetrate far into muscle, bone, and tendon by accident. There will be pain. There will be blood. There will be screams of agony and it is likely I will see the eyes of the one I destroy – the windows to her soul.

Look in the mirror, Soldier. There’s your target. It’s time for the assassination of the old self. But it has to be personal. You have to mean it.

Even when it hurts. Even when it’s embarrassing. That’s just the death throes of our pride, friends. Bloody, messy, agonizing, horrible to endure, but so, so worth it in the long run.

Lord, may we all be willing to let You show us what must die, then give us the strength and trust to put it to death. Forgive us for clinging to what we believe are good things when You truly do know best. No matter how painful or shaming, expose them in us. We yield them to You to rip out, and we take up the sword in cooperation and obedience to You, our King. 

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
(Romans 6:6-7)


A Child’s Sacrifice

Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.
(1 Chronicles 29:12-14)

We are a funny people, aren’t we?

Just the other day, my 12-year-old was telling me that she remembers giving me a dollar for my birthday one year when she was very small. In her young mind, she was giving me a tremendous gift; one that she was very excited to bestow. Of course, the dollar had likely been a gift from my husband and I in the first place, but the heart behind it was precious.

When it comes to giving to our God, I know He wishes our hearts were just as eager.

Sacrificial giving is nothing new. In the Old Covenant days of Levitical worship at the temple, the people of Israel were instructed to make several types of sacrifices from their flocks, first fruits, and so forth.  Some of these were offered as peace offerings, others for sin offerings, and still others were offerings for cleansing or purification, to name just a few.

Now, under the New Covenant, animal sacrifices are no longer practiced – which is something of a relief, because the currency of today is no longer measured in multiples of four feet or by the bushel. Tithes and offerings are the non-agrarian equivalent, I suppose.

In my own case, although I manage the bill paying and writing of checks for our family, I do not currently earn an income. Let’s just say that you are unlikely to find “homeschooling” on a list of get-rich-quick schemes, so I cannot really speak to turning over ten percent of my own hard-earned cash.

However, the thing I find I am often required to sacrifice is time:  time spent visiting or praying with someone who needs encouragement, time spent preparing to facilitate and host our small group, time spent for the sake of my kids… most of my own “sacrifices” fall into this category.

And this is why we are a funny people…

Thinking about tithing and sacrifice recently, I realized that in every single case – from the days of the Old Covenant to my own days of forfeiting a career in order to homeschool- not a single hoof, second, or nickel has ever been offered to God that was not first His gift to us!

To put it another way, when our family tithes, we are not really giving up ten percent of our income: we are giving God back ten percent of what He gave us.

I guess it kind of makes me laugh at myself. I have nothing to offer God. Nothing whatsoever. Time, money, talent, ability – all of it come from Him in the first place, so it is not possible to truly sacrifice, because there is nothing that truly belongs to me. All I can do is offer a portion of His own gifts back to Him.

When I think of it that way, it is much easier to be a cheerful giver!

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
(2 Corinthians 9:6-7)


Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son…” Genesis 22:8a


If there’s a word that entirely fails to evoke sentiments of serenity or images of lazy spring picnics beside a murmuring stream, “sacrifice” may well be it.  It’s a rare Christian, indeed, who falls asleep at night dreaming of what else he may sacrifice or who wakes in eager expectation of the day’s abnegation.

We are such funny creatures…

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I chose to waive the relative ease of a dual income in order that one of us might invest more heavily in our children. As the kids grew, we opted to forego the “free” public school in favor of home education; another sacrifice of time, money, and effort. Now, in this newest season of our lives, the oldest two attend a private school, which brings with it a new kind of fiscal load.  Financially, at least, we have felt called to sacrifice.

And here is why I say we are funny creatures. I need you to understand that I have not delineated areas of my own personal sacrifice in order to seek accolades, but rather in order to highlight my own laughable silliness.

You see, none of the things I have “sacrificed” were truthfully and wholly my own.  Each penny my husband or I have earned was earned through talent or ability first supplied us by God. Even my body — the heart that beats, the lungs that draw breath; even the air I breathe — all are only mine in the sense that all gifts belong to the beloved.

Yet do not miss the fact that they are gifts; I neither created nor produced a single element of any of them. God, Himself, has always provided the sacrifice beginning with the very first one written of in Genesis 3:21 and continuing to this day in the lives of believers.

Thus my earlier comment that we are funny creatures. It strikes me as humorous that we would take every gift our Creator equips us with and cling to it as solemnly as if we had given it form and substance ourselves.

When I think about it, it’s more than a little amusing that I might think myself righteous when God hands me $100 and I offer Him $10 back… and in too many areas, I do not even give Him that much recognition!

With that thought it mind, let’s view a reminder from the apostle Paul:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

There is nothing we possess, not even our persons, which was not at first a Divine allowance.

However, there is One whose life truly was His own. Jesus called the Christ alone among men could claim complete possession of His life, for He did fashion the body He inhabited. He, Himself, as the agent of creation actually did call into being the air He breathed, the dust He walked in, even the tree He was slain upon.

His life was truly His own, and so His sacrifice could arguably be called the only authentic sacrifice ever offered in the entire history of  mankind.

This fact is one among many reasons why His death on that cross was enough to atone for my sin — because it was complete: the sacrifice truly was His to make.

Of His own accord, He laid down a life that was thoroughly and unreservedly His. He was no mere steward but the Master, and He chose to give it all away out of sheer love for His creation. 

That is why I worship Him, my friends, because when I think of the unimaginable humility of my Lord in paying my ransom, I know that He is absolutely worthy of my adoration. His very act of abasement places His gift of salvation so far above my own most noble and heroic efforts as to reveal mine for what they are–filthy rags.

When I stop to think of all He has provided, the proportionally minuscule amount He requires me to give back no longer looks much like a sacrifice. Instead, I feel more like a child hoping to make my Father smile with a gift, absurdly unconscious of the fact that my gift is one He bought and paid for Himself.

O my God, thank You for your mercy and grace and for Your true sacrifice on behalf of one so unworthy as me!

And I myself have given it to you all so that atonement may be made for your souls on the altar, since the blood itself makes atonement through the life that is in it.
Leviticus 17:11b, ISV

A Whole Sacrifice

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Romans 8:18

Today, I am on my eleventh day of a program known as the Whole 30. This program is basically a 30-day elimination diet where the participant removes all forms of sweetener (yes, even stevia), all grains, all legumes, all dairy, and pretty much all processed anything from the daily intake with no cheating and no “slips.” There are specific guidelines on how to balance proteins, fats, and veggies with each meal and for pre- and post-workout.  It’s kind of like a dietary boot camp.

The experience so far has made me think a lot about sacrifice for probably fairly obvious reasons (especially taking into consideration that I am the only one of a family of five doing it!). Though no stranger to dietary sacrifice, I admit that I hesitated to take on this particular plan, but that was mere laziness — not wanting to put so much thought, effort, time, money, etc. into my own meals so that my poor family would not be held hostage to the program.  Now on my eleventh day, I find that I am already feeling some positive effects. My sleep has been deep. I am feeling a little less run-down and have a little more energy to spare.

While eating differently, I have thought much on what the Christ calls us to sacrifice.  He calls us to die to ourselves, to take up our cross daily.  He speaks of turning the other cheek when struck, of giving the modern-day equivalent of the shirt off our back to the one who takes our coat,  of feeding and giving drink to our enemies and praying for them. He tells us to give freely to those who ask of us and not to demand our possessions back if taken.

Jesus held a destitute widow up as a role model for giving all the money she had to the service of God.  He is not unclear in stating that the one who grasps and jockeys for position or acclaim will find themselves in last place while the one who serves without seeking credit will find themselves exalted. He, Himself, set an example by washing the feet of His followers so that we would know there is no task too menial or degrading for any who bear His name to do, not to mention giving His life as a ransom even for a reprobate like myself who deserved no mercy.  For those of us who are His, we are not even to esteem our very lives overmuch, but be willing to lay them down for His Kingdom’s sake or for a brother.

In short, He calls us to sacrifice in every way imaginable.

What challenges me and gets those rusty ol’ wheels turning is this: I believe that there is a very real possibility that the Lord will return soon; if not in my own lifetime, then in that of my children.  Of course, I cannot know this, but what I do know is that I am not alone in this belief. Not by a long shot.  Regardless of whether this collective sense is true or not, the fact remains that He will come again — and not a single, solitary one of us knows when. It could be a thousand years. Or it could be before we finish this sentence.

With that in mind, what exactly is too much to sacrifice for His sake? What price too great to pay for a little while, here and now, for the wonder of Eternity in His presence? Is there any mortal and passing thing too great that it cannot be laid aside for love of our Savior?

I think that all it really takes is willingness. Take this Whole 30, for instance. I promise you that if I can do it, you can too. I am not particularly gifted with fantastic restraint or self-mastery. Temptation is no less tempting for me than anyone else.  I am merely willing to give it my all; it is only for thirty days.  Already, there is a reward in place, and one that will likely increase when it’s all over.

If I think of Eternity in that light, it simplifies all things. Everything in my life — homeschooling, money trouble, sacrifices made to obey God’s will — all of it is only a lifetime. It seems long, but it is oh-so-brief in the face of a span of time so tremendous that our minds cannot but faintly scratch at it.   Whatever it is He is calling us to give up, we need only be willing. He will handle the rest. And I assure you that even in the darkest situation, His presence is a reward that will start to happen as we sacrificially obey. And it is sure to increase when it’s all over.

What are you holding that He is calling you to let go?

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1