Christian Living

How to troubleshoot your sacrifice

Today I’ve been thinking about sacrifice. I like to listen to the soundtrack for Star Trek Into Darkness when I’m writing so I regularly have that scene where Captain Kirk sacrifices himself to save the ship in my head. If you haven’t watched it, well, I realize there are people who don’t like Star Trek. It’s never made sense to me but I do know it is a fact of life 🙂 You can always watch the scene on youtube (although it loses something if you watch it without the context of the movie): https://youtu.be/rGOb0VmVFcQ

Anywho, sacrifice is one of the themes that pulls together many of the great stories–including Jesus’ life and death. It’s also where the rubber meets the road in the Christian life. We all sacrifice things every single day. Right now, I am sacrificing working on my novel, spending time with my kids, relaxing, and catching up on my to-do list for the sake of working on this blog. Every moment, we’re choosing to do something at the expense of all the other things we could be doing.

That’s why what you spend your time on says so much about who you are.

Sacrifice is one of those integral Christian values that I personally think we don’t spend enough time talking about. Maybe because we forget that we’re already doing it all the time. We sugarcoat sacrifice so as not to scare off non-Christians because it sounds daunting and painful. And it can be.

But imagine that I ask you whether you’d like to sacrifice your week of work for an all-expenses-paid vacation to the beach (or whatever your preferred destination is). Would you consider that a sacrifice? I bet you’d be lining up to ditch work. I know I would 🙂 I love the beach. Sacrificing to go to the beach is not a sacrifice–it is a joy.

Sacrifice is like an equation: (Present – sacrifice) + time = what God wants to give you. There are two parts to that sacrifice that change the equation: 1) the value of what you’re losing and 2) the value of what you’re gaining. You might not be so interested if I were to require your firstborn child in trade. Or a million dollars. Or your mint condition Star Trek collection 😉

Paul says he considers everything as rubbish compared to gaining Christ (Phil 3:8). In case that’s not strong enough, check out the definition for “rubbish”: “waste thrown to dogs, like filthy scraps of garbage (table-scraps, dung, muck, sweepings)” (Strongs, 4657).

So… yeah, that’s gross. It reminds me of desperately trying to convince my baby girl to let me wash the doll she carried around and sucked on every single day (we eventually cheated and bought a second one so we could trade them back and forth). It was super precious to her but also super gross.

That’s the kind of sacrifice God calls us to. He doesn’t just take something from us without giving us something even better. Like Jesus talked about with the grain of wheat–all seeds have to “die” to turn into plants (Jn 12:24). We sacrifice and God grows something awesome out of it (Rom. 8:28; Jas 1:17; Heb. 12:1-2). Sometimes it might be something completely different. Sometimes it might be the same thing–just sanctified and made into something that benefits us (vs. a germ-ridden, dingy doll).

I was reminded today that when I struggle to sacrifice something to God, it has everything to do with my perspective. Do I really believe God wants to give me something better? Do I really believe something better exists? And am I willing to be patient? Seeds don’t grow overnight. Dolls take time to wash. Sacrifices take time to bear fruit.

So what about you? What is God calling you to sacrifice? And, if you’re struggling to go through with it, which side of the equation is the problem at?

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Joseph’s Forgiveness

Forgiveness. It’s a beautiful thing. It sets you free from bitterness. Forgiving your enemies can be a lot like love: for your good, rather than theirs. They may never know that you forgave them, but it’s still medicine for your soul.

This year we’ve been in the position of watching relationships end, or at least be put on hold. It’s not a fun place to be in. And as I’ve sought wise counsel and tried to live in peace as far as it was up to me, I’ve had several discussions about forgiveness and reconciliation. Several years ago, I learned that there was a distinct difference between the two. Christians are so apt to mush them together, but they’re not the same thing. This year I’ve found myself fighting that battle all over again. I’ve been counseled by a couple people that forgiveness necessitates reconciliation even if the person in question is abusive, and that it’s my Christian duty to trust them again (“love always trusts”) and to give them full access to my life. And after hearing it from more than one source, I started wondering if I was in the wrong by keeping my fences up. It’s so easy to slide back into the mindset that love means being a doormat (at least for me).

Fortunately, Joseph has recently come up in my Bible study. He’s one of the heroes of forgiveness in Christianity. We talk about how he forgave his brothers even after they plotted to kill him and sold him into slavery. That’s a lot to forgive. But as I was reading the text, I was struck by his method of reconciliation:

 [Gen 42:6-9, 15 NIV] Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked. “From the land of Canaan,” they replied, “to buy food.” Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.” … And this is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here.

Notice that Joseph recognizes them right away, but what does he do? Does he run to them and hug them? No, he pretends to be a stranger and then he gives them a test. I think, as Christians, it’s easy to think about Jesus’ parable of the prodigal sons and assume that we’re supposed to be like the father in that parable–we’re supposed to welcome our hurters/enemies back with open arms. But we forget that we’re not God: we can’t see people’s hearts. We don’t know if they’ve changed or not, if we’re walking back into a war zone or not. I think that, like Joseph, it’s appropriate for us to test people–to see if they’ve changed. Joseph isn’t holding a grudge against his brothers. I think it’s obvious from his relationship with God that he forgave his brothers years before he reconciles with them. Jump forward in the story:

[Gen 44:33-34; 45:1-5 NIV] [Judah said] “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.” Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”

Notice that the instant Joseph knew his brothers had changed–that they weren’t going to repeat their sin by getting rid of the now favored brother, Benjamin–he reveals himself to them and works to reconcile with them. There’s no holding back on his part, which speaks to the importance of making sure my heart is in the right place. But relationship takes two parties and even if I work to get my stuff together, the other party might not be ready for true reconciliation. If I want to have a God-honoring relationship with them, I will work to forgive, work to love, and reconcile the instant I know they’re ready/changed.

I don’t know about you, but when I reconcile with someone, I don’t want to have the same relationship I had before with them. I want something better and I’m willing to wait for that better. So that means I keep dipping my toe in to test the waters before I jump in. Forgiving like Joseph does not mean putting myself back into an unhealthy relationship. It means forgiving right away, but then waiting and testing before I reconcile.

Literature

The Hawk and the Dove

If you’ve never read Penelope Wilcox’s triology, The Hawk and the Dove, well, you should. It’s one of those books everyone should read, especially anyone who has ever suffered or struggled with the problem of evil. I just happened to be given a copy of The Hawk and the Dove in college and it changed me. The book is comprised of a series of short stories that take place around the 15th century in a monastery. The main character, Father Peregrine, comes on the scene as a self-possessed, capable monk with strong hands. He is artistic, does beautiful illuminations, intelligent, able to debate theology…. yet somehow in the midst of this, his very self-sufficiency keeps him at arm’s length from the rest of the monks. Shortly after becoming the Abbot, enemies of his family find him and beat him, shattering his hands and kneecap. He spends the rest of his life as a cripple. Initially, he tries to maintain his self-sufficiency, to deal with his grief and fear alone. One of the brothers breaks through to him and beholds his suffering. The rest of the stories are about how the Abbot becomes the hub of the community. His weakness enables him to relate to the brothers on an intensely deep level, to soothe their fears and their weaknesses. He becomes truly a father to them all. And in the midst of his suffering, he falls in love with Jesus as the suffering savior.

I could never understand why the Catholic church portrays Jesus on the cross, until I read this book. Yes, I want to continue to celebrate His resurrection as verification of all He promised, but beholding Jesus as the suffering Savior has changed me in ways I can’t even explain. The Gospel is Christ crucified… God’s love revealed through sacrifice and suffering. He is not unfamiliar with our pain. He is not putting us through hoops, as though we’re rats in a maze. His suffering can comfort us in the midst of ours. Our suffering can connect us with Christ. Stop and think about that for a moment. Just turn it over a few times. Jesus is the suffering Savior and our suffering can connect us with Him.

He has empathy, not sympathy, for us in the middle of our suffering. As we suffer, we have empathy, not sympathy, for what He went through for US. for us! Jesus went through suffering for us. As I suffer, I come to a greater appreciation of God’s love for me–the cost He paid for me. This is the answer to the problem of evil–the cross.

Our suffering can connect us with others. This also blows my mind. I love how Wilcox shows the transformative power of suffering. Before his infirmity, Father Peregrine is self-sufficient and is able to command the respect of his brothers. Afterwards, he is broken and needy and earns their love. Before, he is able to guide them on an intellectual, surface level. Afterwards, his brokenness opens doors into their hearts and there is deep dealing experienced. It’s so easy for me to gloss over this concept. Maybe it’s the performance-oriented, perfectionistic part of me. I don’t know. But in my weakness, my first reaction is to conceal it, and when I can’t hide it, I try to minimize, and over the past few years, when I can’t even do those things, I feel isolated and like dead weight, dragging everyone around me down. Father Peregrine doesn’t hide his weakness–he can’t. And he’s a better Abbot because of his weakness, not in spite of his weakness. Just as Christ is a better high priest because of his weakness.

What would it be like if we all lived with our weaknesses and brokenness in the spotlight? Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? But maybe we would be more intimately connected with God and with others, maybe we would have healthier souls. Maybe we would be better tools for the good works God’s prepared in advance for us to do. Maybe I am a better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better sister, a better daughter because of my illness and brokenness, not in spite of it. Maybe you are too.

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An Eternal Glory

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been feeling so wretched for the past few months or what, but I’ve had a few conversations with people about what sorts of things I run back to Scripturally when I feel poorly. And the number one thing I get excited about lately is the temporary nature of this life. As Paul puts it, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:16-18 NIV)

Isn’t it amazing that the amount of glory we get in the end is so incredibly much that it makes all the brokenness and misery of living here look like “light and momentary troubles”? I love that idea! I really don’t know what I would do if I thought I’d spend eternity with a broken body and broken relationships and all the stress of living in a broken world, or if I thought this life is all there is.

While we were on vacation, I had a couple meltdowns because I couldn’t do things I love and miss. Being broken is hard! And sometimes it looms so large that it seems to be the only real thing in my life. But that’s not reality. The reality is that God is working something beautiful in my brokenness, something that is so wonderful that when I see it, I’ll think all this day to day junk was just light and momentary troubles. The reality is that day by day, we’re getting closer to being with Jesus, to having perfect bodies, to living sin-free.