Living Sacrifices

It’s the 4th of July here in the States. A time when we celebrate our independence from that monarchy and reign of the British so long ago. I joked it was the original Brexit on a couple of social media platforms because IT WAS. We often take this time in America to show our respect for the Founding Fathers of our quite young nation (look at other countries y’all, we’re pretty green behind the ears still) and honor those who have sacrificed for our country through battles and wars.

We are very sentimental that way as Americans, remembering the sacrifices of others to give us the independence we exercise through tubing on the lake, shooting off fireworks until the neighbors call the cops, and playing Florida Georgia Line at top volume. We like that word sacrifice alot around this time of year, what with Memorial Day and 4th of July, and the regal nature in which we honor those that ultimately sacrificed their lives so that we can not be under a reign of a monarchy or dictatorship.

But I don’t think we like that word being applied to our lives, or what we are asked to do. It’s good for others, but no so much ourselves. Believe me when I say I wrestle with this just as much. Because sacrifice means something has to be given up, it has to be surrendered…or even killed. So I look at Paul’s words to the Romans in chapter 12 and start to see the bigger tension evolving.

“That you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)

See we are living…breathing…acting…doing…and yet, we are to be sacrificing ourselves for God, to Him, because that is the reasonable response to the God who saves, redeems, loves and sacrificed Himself for us. It means to me I have to kill off myself in every moment, give myself over not to my whims, desires and emotions, but the Spirit within me. Not choosing this world (as Paul continues on telling us) to live into but transformed by Him in every single part of us. It is the surrender of ourselves for the sake of something better-the very best we could ever encounter, God Himself.

So when I want to dwell in this place of sacrifice and seeing how others have given of themselves I cannot help but look at the sacrifice of Christ and the daily act as this living being of sacrificing myself unto Him, His reign, His rule and His will. Not for some selfish pursuit or half-hearted liberty I can conjure up but for the ultimate liberty in Christ.  Not to pursue my own life, but one sacrificed fully for the very best thing…Christ.

Oh that I wish it were as easy as I like to deceive myself that it is. But sacrificing myself and all that selfish desire, ambition and emotion is hard. The person that says it’s easy is lying, but just because it is hard doesn’t mean I give in and lean back into a self-pursued life. It means going hard into transforming my mind, knowing my strength is not my own, but Christ’s in every. single. moment. if I but ask, seek with my heart. Y’all, this Christian life of sacrificial living isn’t easy but it’s worth it. It’s worth it to surrender my attitude, my mouth, my mind, my weakness…every single bit of me even the parts I really don’t want to give up, to know I am serving God in faith.

So where might you need to live as a sacrifice today? What area has God been hammering in on you that needs to be killed off in order to be set apart?

Wrestling with Rest

Do you ever pray for rest and then when it comes despise it?

No? Just me then?

For a few years I felt the overwhelming sense of busy and hurried in my life. It felt like I was sprinting for an entire marathon, and my entire being was just slap out of energy. I felt drained, emptied out fully in every part of my life. It as so bad that my emotions couldn’t be kept in check on anything and I was at a point of no longer caring if they were in check. I poured out to God that I just needed rest, I needed the breath that could only come in Him. I needed carrying and I needed the quiet of Him.

What I didn’t bargain for was an equal amount of wrestling with having rest over a particular season. The resting season He gave me and that I have found myself in for longer than I had drawn up, was turning into a bit of a wrestling match with Jesus. That I was done with the rest, the seeming quiet and the landscape that felt more like a desert than a dream.

We plead for rest and then when it’s given to us, it’s not how we expected it to be. We start wondering if God’s forgotten us, we doubt He has any good in this time for us, we question whether He is even with us in the quiet, the seeming silence of life. And so we start doing, start filling life with busy again because we have become people who cannot be still and know. We can’t revel in the rest He gives us, that He beckons us to with Him. We would rather carry the burdens than take on His yoke of of easy, His burden that is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Learning about rest in Him means that I am not in control, and let’s be honest, I never have been, but I like to lie to myself that I do have control. Learning from Him in a time of rest means I am taking on a gentle and humble heart, just as He spoke in Matthew, one that doesn’t continue in the fretting, one that knows that I am the star nor am I in any control. What we find in rest is waiting. A silent waiting where security, our security, isn’t dependent upon us but fully in Him.

Rest isn’t thrashing about, pointing fingers and accusing God of leaving us. It’s joy and gladness in being with Him in the waiting, in the giving of this time He has graciously bestowed. It is the very words of David that we can see as rest, what we are capable of in rest instead of wrestling with Him.

“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will You let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your Presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand. “

Psalm 16:9-11 (NIV)

It takes learning to be in rest with Him, and not wrestling with the feelings of abandonment or aloneness. It takes choosing to rest firmly and securely in Him rather than attempts at a hostile takeover of my life. It means waiting in silence instead of lobbing doubts of His character at Him. The irony is that we were built to rest, and yet when He gives it to us we wrestle so hard against it because the world tells us we shouldn’t be waiting, shouldn’t be silent, shouldn’t be still. But stillness is where we know that He is God…where He is our security…where are filled with joy….where we are in His Presence.

That Post-Resurrection Life

Last week I posted alot about Holy Week, culminating in Resurrection Sunday. We make much of this day in Christianity as it’s the day Christ arose from the grave to pronounce victory for all over death and sin. We no longer have to worry about the bondage of sin, but instead we live lives of freedom found in Christ.

Easter is a celebratory time, and rightfully so.  We celebrate and live into that which we could not do, ever, knowing He is our Redeemer.

But here’s the thing, as I walked through this week and all the post-Holy Week living. I dug into Acts a bit, even as Christ ascended and the disciples are now left with much-including the Holy Spirit with them and in them.

I looked at Peter, Silas, and the others who were witness to Christ’s workings. As Pentecost came, so did God’s Presence in the Holy Spirit upon them. Not preaching the gospel, but speaking praises of His wondrous works. They weren’t witnessing to all those who had gathered around as the rushing wind drew them in, nope. They were giving praise, speaking it from words they had never spoken before thanks to the gifting of the Holy Spirit.

So that got me thinking, as I walked through this week post-Resurrection Sunday, when all the candy went on sale, the joyous nature of what’s coming had ebbed, and the very felt Presence may be waning for you. Maybe it doesn’t feel like much of a celebration now, in the week after. That praises continue to pour forth out of mouths which now face death, doubts, frustrations, worries and this post-Resurrection life in the day to day.

Do we grow used to the Resurrection the other 364 days a year?

That was the question posed on Sunday by David Hannah. One that has struck me over and over again this week, as I live out life in Christ and through Him. Am I living a “used to the Resurrection” life every other day but Easter Sunday? What does it even look like to live a Resurrected Life?

Well it means we aren’t beholden to the death that sin promises anymore. We aren’t buried under the weight of the world’s stresses, cries and defeats. We are alive in Him who defeated the grave and gave us life abundant. We aren’t bound to identities in anything but in Him.

But yet we choose the mourning cloths and embalmed rags of a life we once knew instead of the resurrected one in which we have with Christ, in His redemption. So maybe we need that reminder that praises come forth even when we may still be wondering, when we may still doubt and have fears…when Christ has told us explicitly of things to come and yet He also gave us life anew.

Leptas, Perfume, and a Bag of Silver

Can I just share with y’all that this digging into Holy Week has really been such a divine interruption in my normal writing and study? That it has brought some deeper understandings of Scripture and this week for me than I had before?

download (1)Between yesterday and today we see the objects of money, offering and sacrifice come up in some pretty profound ways in the life of Christ and His followers. From the prior day’s teachings, Christ is in the temple when a “poor widow” came and put in leptas that she had to live on-a couple of pennies in today’s terms. She gave out of her poverty, while others were coming in giving out of their riches, casting in large amounts. Christ was pointing here not to the amount but the heart behind it, the giving out of sacrifice and in devotion to God. It was about the offering in the heart, not the offering in the hand.

The following day, as they stay in Bethany, a woman came as they were reclining at the table, probably following a feast. Do you ever linger at the table with friends? Leaning back from full bellies, but wanting to lean in to fill your heart? I have a feeling that’s what was going on here, gathering at the table for long discussions and listening to the heart of Christ, although we don’t know what was talked of, we do see this woman come to them. She brings in a jar of expensive perfume…this is important because it’s not oil to anoint Him with. It is that pricey bottle of Chanel No. 5, fragrant and hard to come by, expensive to everyone, and used for burial preparations specifically. She poured out this entire gift on Christ, right there before everyone. It was uninhibited devotion to Him, it was her offering of all she had to Him. While others complained of the excess, Christ saw it as her recognition of Who He was, loving Him truly with all that she had.

I love how Christ schools those around the table on this act, as the fragrance fills the room, it coating Him from the head down. In the NIV translation He states, “She did what she could.” He acknowledged her faith and her understanding, receiving her full sacrifice that cost much because she knew, her sacrifice going beyond herself and what others thought of her. She only cared about what she could do for Christ, giving all that she had for Him in His very presence.

Whoa.

How often do I take for granted that He is with me? That I am right there in His Presence? That instead of sacrificing all that I have, all that I am, I choose the way of Judas.

Yep, the verses right after the perfume are of Judas Iscariot choosing to betray Christ to the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees seeking to kill Him, for the price of a slave…thirty pieces of silver. We don’t know his reasoning for it, but we see the contrast of the costly devotion in one moment and the small price of betrayal in the next. Judas choosing his own wants over the Presence of Christ. Bob Goff put it perfectly, “For a couple silver coins, Judas traded who he was, for what he thought he wanted.” The lure of power? Authority maybe? To be in the in crowd with the Pharisees? Maybe he worried what others thought of him, his association with Christ?

I don’t know the root of it, but the betrayal was costly…it would lead to Judas taking his own life not long after Christ’s crucifixion. But we look at these two people, we see their offerings and sacrifice not from a lens of monetary reasoning but from their heart reasons, the faith reasons.

It’s a hard question to face, even in the small decisions daily. Because the big questions have been built upon the smaller sacrifices, the steps further towards Him or away from Him. The choice to sacrifice more of self or more of Him. And so on this Wednesday of Holy Week I am left asking the same question myself.

Do we sacrifice ourselves for Him or do we sacrifice Him in order to get what we want?

 

Getting Taught

My first year of college I was a double major in history and math, with a secondary education emphasis. I wanted to teach. In my high school years I was heavily influenced by math teachers and an English teacher. I fell in love with history thanks to my dad and AP History class. Even at 18 I saw how impactful teachers could be on the life of a bratty teen like myself and felt I owed them more than just an A in class, but to turn and give back myself.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, the Great Teacher went in the temple to teach. Christ, during His time here on earth, often taught through the lens of parables, illustrating an idea through story in order to bring about revelation on the hearts of those who hear. He took the harder lessons to be learned and brought them to the people who most needed to hear them.

But here we sit looking at Mark 11-13, and the hard words of Christ teaching and the Pharisees interrupting, to try to trap Him or ensnare Him. They bring lofty legalistic views, with religion carried on their shoulders rather than trusting in Christ, the God-man Himself right before them, teaching and preaching, pointing to the time of redemption.

They doubt His authority, seeking to be their own authority. I have to say, we all are alike in that vein. We prefer to use ourselves more often to rule than allowing Christ to rule in and through us. As one writer states, “We are not really interested in surrendering that rule to anyone else.” We see further on that they fear others more than they fear God, when they make decisions based upon the crowd’s opinion instead of the words of Christ before them. They chose the safe route, the expedient one rather than what was true, right.

Sounds a bit like me some days, alot of days. Choosing for myself based upon the opinion of others often instead of what Christ commands of me. When I look at this text I cannot help but ask myself, “Does what others will think of me hinder me from moving more towards Jesus?” Do the lessons He teaches me alter me in a way that moves me more towards His likeness or more towards the crowd’s opinion?

In many ways I am just as they were, questioning whether this Teacher has authority and influence in my life, whether I would allow the opinions of others to bare weight over His command. So on this Tuesday as I sit and look at the Teacher and His teachings that day thousands of years ago, I have to seek to know how much of all this is a reason to mask my own fear of what faith might cost me socially, relationally, and culturally. Whether I will be taught or continue to think I am the teacher.

Fig Trees and Flipping Tables Jesus

I have to be honest with y’all….I have never truly understood the cursing of the fig tree by Christ on the Monday of Holy Week. I jump quickly to the story of Christ flipping the tables in the temple-the image I really cannot wait to see in heaven, justice-seeking Christ full of righteous anger. But who doesn’t love that?!

fig-tree

But first that fig tree y’all…As Christ is heading back into Jerusalem from Bethany, where He’s staying with Mary, Martha and Lazarus He is hungry. Yep, we see Jesus get hungry in Scripture, which is His human side coming forth from what I tend to lean towards. He sees a fig tree off there in the distance that is in full leaf, meaning it is showing that it should be bearing fruit, whether small or large. (Fig trees in that part of the world do not fruit until June, this would have been March-April) The tree was giving all intents and purposes that it was something that it, in production, in fruit, was not.

Christ immediately curses the tree, that it may never bear fruit again.

A parable lived right out for the apostles to see and hear.

It was a testament to the state of Israel at that time, and very well the state of our lives too in the church. Israel was showing off one thing, claiming Yahweh as God but yet bore out none of the fruit of that life…instead going after their own gods, making legalism their true aim instead of holiness. They bore no fruit of a life lived in obedience. It is a show with no substance, deceiving what is presented.

“The great majority of persons who have any sort of religion at all bear leaves, but they produce no fruit.”

-Charles Spurgeon, Nothing But Leaves

We believe within our own churches we are one thing, when in fact we are bearing nothing of substance out. Jesus is very well talking to us right here, right now in our churches in America. Egyptian Christians are murdered as they attended Palm Sunday services on Sunday. Yet we sit idly by and allow our comforts to be our concern, whether the a/c is working overtime or not (the very thing I complained about this morning, I kid you not y’all) or whether so-and-so is friendly towards us, or that our service had better numbers than the other church. Instead of our hearts yearning for righteousness, for holiness and complete obedience in all things.

We’ve grown into our own hypocrisy that our Savior cursed this very day….that He pointed to and made clear that deception in bearing fruit was not worthy of life, of His blessing, but rather a curse, a death. We need Him to make us useful and fruitful, to bear it out…just as John 15 points us to, that we abide in Him and we bear much fruit. But we must be in Him, not doing of ourselves or in ourselves. It took being led into John 15 over the last couple of weeks for me to see the real point Christ is making here…if we aren’t in Him, we bear false witness of fruit, we attempt to be the vinedresser, branch and root all in one, only there is nothing of substance to us, to our churches.

Sacrificial Identity

Am I sacrificing my identity to be identified solely in Christ?

Oof.

I scribbled that question across the top of my bulletin, knowing the Holy Spirit was pushing me into a very hard question to address, right in the middle of Sunday morning church.

Y’all. I don’t know how you get when the Spirit starts doing a work in you, but I tend to want to have a conversation. And you really can’t do that with your pastor digging into the Word with 200 of your other congregants.

Oh, and to think I thought that was it. Nope. Then came the checklist of things I choose to make my identity rather than Christ. Things I put above that list that I had not even thought identified me: judgemental, self-righteous, better than, unforgiving, haughty. Ugh. Y’all, it was not a pretty scene there in that row. Because God was doing a work I had been praying for Him to do, but it wasn’t on my terms. It wasn’t in my controlled environment to address and respond to in time.

Nope…He was there pointing out in the very Scripture I had been reading the week prior, the same Scripture that Aaron had planned to preach on months ago, that my identity was only to be in Him. That at the root of it all, of who I think I am, who I really am, and who others see is the creation that He made me to be, to identify me as-His. That my identity alone should be in Him and not in other things, people, roles or sins.

Yep, sins…because whether I accept it or not, often my identity is in the sin I choose to take for myself. The little ones that don’t seem to matter much in the day to day but that soon become what I am identified as-poor attitude, condescending, unloving, spiteful. It all has to be sacrificed if we want to be known as nothing but Christ’s.

It means choosing grace, hope, love, kindness, goodness, meekness in every single thing. It means understanding that the identities we desire for ourselves, whether they are roles, jobs, prefixes, or any other good thing are not the very best thing for us, they are not His intention for us. And so to be identified in Christ, all the lesser things have to be cast aside, sacrificed and laid down. They must.

If I sat here and said it was easy, then I’d be identified a liar as well because it is not y’all. And it’s not a once and done, it’s a continual fight to not pick up those things we think are good at identifying ourselves as and choose Christ instead. But as we move into our identity being solely in Christ, we find the choosing can be easier, the fight not as hard, and the sin identifiable before we engage in it. It will also mean wrestling with areas we didn’t know we were identified with, sins we couldn’t possibly be connected to, and choices that we hadn’t realized we’d made in order to be identified as anything other than in Christ.