Tuesday Prayer: Love for Man

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

John 13:34-35

God who is Love, today we come before Your throne of grace humbled and contrite in heart. We are more grateful than words can express that You have chosen to open our eyes to the greatest Love of all; the Love of the Almighty expressed in the ultimate atoning sacrifice. By Your sacrificial love, all our crimes are forgiven and taken away as far as the east is from the west. 

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalms 103:11-12

Yet even with so great an example of humility and sacrificial love as Jesus demonstrated His life and death, even though the cost of our own sin is uncountable, we are prone to forgetfulness when it comes to extending that same love and forgiveness to other people. What a short-sighted and selfish people we are! Open our hearts more to understand the depth and breadth of Your love. Fill us with it so that we may love others just as selflessly as You love us.

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

Matthew 18:32-33

And Lord, please change our vision so that we do not interpret the actions and motives of others only by how they affect us or make us feel. Instead, help us see others as You do. For those who are unsaved, remind us that we, too, were once lost, deceived, and living in active rebellion to the Living God. Show us how to view others with humility, understanding that only by Your grace are we saved and that they, too, may be saved by Your grace. 

Shape us into a compassionate people, believing the best intentions of others no matter how they hurt us and willing to forgive no matter how deep the wound. Keep us mindful of the cost of the Cross and of the hurts we’ve inflicted on others and on You so that we can keep our own attitudes in proper perspective.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:7

Thank You for allowing us to be covered in the righteousness of Your Son, Jesus, for without His covering, we would be laid bare in our shame and filthy in our sin.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

And Lord, make us to especially love our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are not actively living in love with each other, we have no draw to those on the outside of the church. Let us live out Jesus’s words and show the world we belong to Him by the love we have for each other. 

May it be, also, that we love others enough to tell them the truth about You, even if it is a difficult truth for them to hear. If any should die apart from Christ, may it never be because we neglected share the news of Jesus Christ with them. It is for Your glory and in His name we ask for this great overflow of compassion in our hearts and actions, amen. 

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)

 

Gross But Good

… the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Matthew 20:28)

Last Friday night, I spent some time with my 14-year-old and two adorable little girls wearing a sweatshirt and yoga pants merrily festooned with vomit.

It was glorious.

Well, OK, not the vomit of course…

My Sweet Potata had agreed to babysit for some friends but had neglected to tell me the two previous nights had been sleepless for her. Once my gang arrived home from school, her bleary eyes and slumped shoulders told the tale even before she could confess.

So I decided to tag along and be her wingman. We had a fantastic conversation on the drive over, and the first couple of hours were filled with joyful giggles and silly games. At the appropriate time, my no-longer-little girl tucked the two sweeties into bed we both settled in to do a little reading.

Twenty minutes later, I was bathing the youngest while big sister provided Sweet Potata with a detailed narrative of the differences between her sister’s vomit and the one time she had thrown up.

At this point, I wasn’t sure if excitement or illness had caused the event, but I was thankful God had worked things out so Sweet Potata and I could switch hit. Once the little one was bathed, Sweet Potata sat with the sisters and read books while I cleaned up the crib. Not long after, she had big sister back in bed while I held the little one in another room.

Seconds later, said little one was back in the tub and my clothing had acquired some distinctive new attributes. Even still, it was a wonderful evening.

You see, now that my own children are teens, connection with them does not always come as easily as it did when they were small. They no longer believe I know everything and in fact are often convinced I am not even capable of spelling my name correctly. They definitely doubt my abilities.

But all of it – the pulling away, the incessant questioning of my motives, the disbelief that our family rules are there for the good of each person, the reluctance to believe my insistence on a hygienic household and on the nutritional deficit of Pop Tarts have merit– all of it is a natural and necessary part of growing up.

But as a parent, it is a painful part.

And crazily, as I sat in the floor with the towel-wrapped toddler by my side (because my lap was, shall we say, no longer a pleasing place to snuggle), I had a powerful glimpse of the enormity of God’s love for me.

Like my teenage daughter, I spent much of my life pulling away from my Father. In truth, I rejected Him entirely.

All of humanity did. We all wanted to go our own way, test our boundaries without the pesky interference of thoughts for the future. We all disbelieved His laws were given out of love and concern for us. We all sinned and fell short of His glory.

Yet so great is His love that He did not give up on us.

Instead, He sent His Son away from Glory to immerse Himself in humanity. The Creator subjecting Himself to all the vile things which occur in a human body since the day sin entered and brought decay and death into His creation.

While here, Yeshua reached past the festering reek of leprosy and touched those who were infected by it – despite the social stigma of being unclean.

He raised the dead. He endured being spat upon, mocked, and brutally tortured. It is likely there were times when He was covered in worse things than vomit.

Suddenly, as I sat with one arm wrapped around a sick little sweetie, listening to my daughter’s voice mingled with big sister’s and ignoring the clammy funk of my own clothing, I realized something.

Yeshua came and suffered the nastiness of being human because it was worth it.

To me, all the cleaning up – and yes, even the light coating of vomit – was worth it. That night, I was able offer friends who are dealing with so much a chance to have some time alone together. I had the privilege of offering comfort to one I claim as a part-time daughter.

But most of all, it was worth it to reach through the wall of adolescent stubbornness and bring a little restoration into my relationship with my daughter. To talk with her and enjoy each other as we did when she was small. To know I was there by her side in a difficult situation.

And that is precisely why my Lord came. To restore the connection He once had with His beloved creation. To walk through the yuck with us.

For Him, I believe, it was worth wearing a bit of foulness to walk and talk with His beloved children once more as He used to before sin entered the world.

Which just makes me love Him even more.

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
(2 Corinthians 1:5)

Migraine Chronicles: Another Letter

Hey J.,

I missed Monday this week, but I didn’t want to entirely miss this… Last week, I talked to you about refocusing on praise rather than on your circumstances.  Today, I want to talk a little bit about why.

If you are anything like me, you have probably entertained the idea that the whole chronic migraine issue just isn’t fair. Other people can eat whatever they want, do whatever activities they want; heck, many can even go for a hike or a run in hot, sunny weather. It doesn’t seem at all fair, does it?

But here’s a funny little secret that I have learned: When we humans say that something isn’t fair, what we really mean is that we don’t like it.

In fact, I doubt any of us would enjoy “fair” if it were put into practice. If fairness were to rule the day, then Jesus would never have given Himself up as a substitutionary sacrifice and we would all pay the eternal price of our sins. That would be fair, but I would not look forward to it.

So when you think about it, unfairness itself is something to be grateful about. You and I, we have sinned. Although I can’t speak for you, I daily fail to put God first in everything, often by falling into self-pity. And that is just one single area – there are many, many more.

The truth is that we have fallen far short of the glory of God, and we actually do deserve pain and suffering, both now and in eternity.

But Jesus did not. He endured hunger, thirst, fatigue, and even torture, betrayal, and a shameful, horrible death at the hands of the very people He came to save. He did not deserve it, but out of love, He did it anyway. For you. For me. For any of us who will accept His Lordship with gratitude.

 

So when you are in pain, try to fix your mind on Jesus and remember that the unfair price He paid is something for which we can be forever thankful. And remember that I am trying the very same tactic, though not always with success.

Be encouraged that even in suffering, you are never alone, for our Lord suffered, too.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
(Hebrews 12:3-4)

Love always,
Ms. Heather

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)

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