Self-Sacrifice on My Own Terms

The other day my daughters and I had a conversation that struck me.

My 5 year old, whose favorite Bible story is “Jesus Died on the Cross”, randomly said, “It hurt Jesus to be nailed to the cross.”

“Yes, it did. It hurt very much,” I somberly affirmed.

Then my 7 year old reflected, “I don’t think I would have been able to do that… I mean, I would have wanted to, but I don’t think I could have…”

“Me neither,” I said, identifying with her human frailty.

There was silence for about 3 seconds as we all thought about the crucifixion. I felt so many things… mostly, though, I was floored by my 7 year old’s incredible self-insight and willingness to be so honest about her humanity.

And then the 5 year old, equally pensive and extremely serious, chimed in, “I could have done it if they had just used tape.”

Her sister and I laughed.

I had the mental image of Jesus scotch-taped to the cross. Then I decided duct tape would hold better and adjusted my imagination accordingly… after all, they say duct tape can do anything…

Self-sacrifice on my own terms
image via Mister GC @FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rather than enlighten my sweet 5 year old that even if they had used tape, Jesus still would have died on that cross due to suffocation, I rambled on about the need for blood sacrifice, which was probably an equally over-their-heads path to take…

Later that night, as I recalled our conversation, I estimated my daughter was willing to be taped to the cross because she assumed it wouldn’t hurt. She wasn’t willing to be nailed to the thing because, obviously, that would be painful… She has just enough compassion in her heart that she would have wanted to save people if it were up to her, but, like her older sister, she has her limits. There’s only so far she’d go to save people from hell, and nails through her hands and feet was too far… so she dreamt up a less painful way she could help people…tape.

She was willing to sacrifice herself…on her terms… and the moment I put that thought together in my brain, the Spirit whispered, “Just like you…”

I had to agree. I’m willing to do anything for Jesus…on my own terms. I’m willing to do anything for my family and friends…the way I want to do it. I’m willing to do anything for the lost and for strangers and for anyone anywhere anytime…my way.

Which is fine except for the fact that that’s not how this following Jesus thing works.

We don’t get to dictate the terms of our “being a Christian” to Him, just as He didn’t get to dictate the terms of His life and death to the Father.

God the Father’s plan was to send Christ to earth to ultimately suffer heinously, die in the worst possible way, and rise again. And there were times Jesus didn’t want to participate in the plan! His plea to the Father, for example, to “take this cup from Me,” was a desperate cry to the Father to change the terms (Luke 22:42)!

Jesus was tempted, as we are, to resist the Father’s terms… but He didn’t (Hebrews 4:15). He sacrificed Himself the way the Father told Him to, according to the Father’s will (Luke 22:42).

Our emulating Christ works the same way.

Jesus sets the terms: die to self, take up your cross, follow Him, love others as Christ has loved us, serve others, and go and make disciples. These are the ways we are to sacrifice ourselves. And there will be times we won’t want to! We will be tempted to resist His terms… but we can’t. Because there is no other way to truly be His.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26-27

We don’t get to choose the tape over the nails and still be able to call ourselves Christ-followers. We don’t get to choose to what extent we’re willing to sacrifice; He chooses. We’re all in, or we’re all out. We’re with Him, or we’re not. We have to be willing to sacrifice everything…

I imagine it’s a bit like jumping off a bridge, headfirst in a free fall, waiting to see if the bungee cord around your ankles really will snatch you out of death’s hands. Scary stuff not for the faint of heart. But when you spring back up, away from the ground below – when that bungee cord proves itself strong and true – exhilaration… relief… laughter… freedom… confidence wash over you. And you laugh. And the next time you have to jump, it’s just a little bit easier to do.

No more trying to sacrifice ourselves on our own terms. (It doesn’t work anyway.) Time to sacrifice the way He tells us to. Ask the Lord to help you let go of anything you hold more tightly than His hand. It will be hard. But He will help.

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How to Take Things One Day at a Time

I know, it seems pretty self-explanatory. And yet, it’s so difficult to literally take things one day at a time.

Our minds whir past today and worry about the next day, week, month, year.

I don’t think we spend too much time thinking about the future because we’ve got nothing better to do. No, we forward think because we feel like we have to plan. 

And we do… to an extent.

In order to be responsible adults, we need to know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. Even the Bible speaks to this, “…those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness,” (Proverbs 14:22).

But, as with most things, there needs to be a balance between detailedly planning everything about our futures and being open to the truth that God knows better than we do. He knows what’s coming down the pike. He knows what’s best for us.

A couple weeks ago I’d been rehearsing to myself that God knows the plan for my family. And that was comforting… until stress to plan crept back in and tried to take over… 100 times each day.

Then the Lord introduced me to someone who spoke some new wisdom to me through an “old” verse. She said, “Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘For I know the plans I have for you…'” I nodded as she shared, oblivious to the fact that God was about to turn this verse on it’s head for me. The acquaintance continued, God knows the plan; we don’t have to.” 

Huh.

I hadn’t considered this verse that way before. We normally quote this verse to encourage us that God has good plans for us and that He is in control. But to tilt the focus of the verse onto the pronoun – to observe Who knows the plans – this was big for me. It frees me up from feeling like I have to know the plans too. I don’t!

Instead, I can trust that God will reveal to me the steps of the plan as I need to know them

Which brings me back to taking things one day at a time.

The Lord is teaching me how to do this.

Yes, I still have a very loose “plan”, but the details aren’t written in permanent marker, and, in some cases, not even in pencil. Because at the end of the day, I don’t actually know the plan.

So, instead of worrying/trying to plan in vain, I’m taking a different approach.

Each morning I’m asking the Lord what He wants me to do today. That’s it. Just today. And He’s telling me. 

One day He told me to rest. Another day He told me to turn in my daughters’ school applications to one school. Just one. Several days when I’ve suggested to the Lord that I also “need” to work on other things – like record my last class and write my lesson for my next class –  He’s politely instructed me not to. I don’t know why. But I trust Him. I was tempted to job hunt yesterday morning. He reminded me that wasn’t on the list for that day.

Living this way with the Lord has been a lot more freeing than you might think. Especially for us “controllers”. It can be difficult to not plan and do when there is so much that needs to be done. And, to be sure, the world is not going to understand this approach to life, so expect some flack.

But learning to listen to the Lord’s directives one day at a time is building my trust in Him and helping me to obey the numerous scriptures which admonish us to wait on the Lord. 

Give it a try. He knows the plan; you’ve got nothing to lose.

“I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope,” (Psalm 130:5).

Some Truths About Your Purpose

Every year about this time, at summer’s end, prepping for another school year, another year of ministry, I question my “purpose” and my “calling”.

Truth be told, I hate those words. Mostly because I struggle to pinpoint what my purpose and calling are. God hasn’t given me the blue print to my life, so I frequently wonder what He’s up to.

image via Suat Eman/freedigitalphotos.net
image via Suat Eman/freedigitalphotos.net

The Bible teaches all believers are “called” to certain things – He called us to salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 2:9); He calls us to peace (1 Corinthians 7:15); He calls us to have hope in Jesus (Ephesians 1:16-20; 1 Peter 5:10); He calls us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20); He calls us to love Him and one another (Matthew 22:36-39); He calls us to use our gifts to build up the church (Romans 12:4-8).

These are “general” callings. God doesn’t have to speak them directly to each one of us for us to know they are for each one of us. He wrote them in the Bible to save Himself some time. He’s smart like that.

But what about “specific” callings? Like God calling Abraham to leave for a new land (Genesis 12:1-4)? Or God hand-picking David to be Israel’s king (1 Samuel 16:10-13)? Or God calling Jonah to go to Nineveh (Jonah 1:2)? These callings aren’t for all believers; they were specific callings for individuals in history.

I often wonder what my “specific” calling(s) might be…

By virtue of the fact that I am married, I am called to be a (good) wife. Similarly, because I possess children, I am called to be a (good) mother.

If I consider my gifts of teaching and prophecy (commitment to the truth, not foretelling the future), I am called to use those somehow some way for the edification of the Church. In a way, that’s specific, but, on the other hand, a lot of details on how to use those gifts are lacking. Does the how even matter? Will God be happy with me using my gifts in any number of ways as long as it is done for His glory (Colossians 3:23)?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. And sometimes that fact trips me up.

I want to know which Bible courses He wants me to teach, what plans He has for this blog, if He wants me to take a staff position at my church, if He wants me to invest some time in developing a speaking career, if He wants me to go get a Masters of Divinity, if He wants me to write a book, etc., etc., etc.

Sometimes I get so caught up in what I don’t know, I am tempted to not do anything

Satan likes to try to paralyze me with thoughts like, “Did God really call you to teach this specific Bible course, or did you volunteer on your own accord?” and “God isn’t really using this blog – maybe you should hang it up.”

But what Satan fails to mention is that if I do nothing, I won’t be obeying the general calls on my life. Problem. 

As for the specific callings, Psalm 138:8 reads, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me…”

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me… I don’t have to work it out; He will.

The Lord will fulfill HIS purpose for me… I don’t have to create my own purpose; He already has one in mind for me.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for ME… I don’t have to wonder if He has a specific call on my life; He does.

The Lord WILL fulfill his purpose for me…. Whether I know what that purpose is, whether I cooperate with Him or rebel against Him, whether I feel inadequate or my weaknesses seem to get in the way, God WILL have His way with and through me.

This is great news. Namely, I can’t screw up God’s purpose for me! No matter what path I choose, He won’t let me walk down it unless it contributes to His purpose for me.

Recognizing this fact doesn’t provide me anymore of the details I wish I had… but it does provide me freedom. While Satan would have me freeze in the face of uncertainty, the Lord says, “Go ahead and try to use your gifts however you want; make a plan. Do not be afraid. I will redirect any misguided ideas you have to lead you into my purpose for you.”

The author of  Proverbs 16:9 agrees, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.”

Related articles:

This Time of Year

The Meaning of Life

What, Exactly, is His Grace Sufficient For?

Preparation

I’ve mentioned more than once that I hope God will, I think God might, I imagine God could use my writing and teaching in a huge way.  In other words, I REALLY hope He does!  I’m talking Beth Moore sized/type of ministry.  Traveling to teach the Word of God all over the world.  Writing Bible studies.  Sharing my passion for the Bible with others in the hopes that they, too, will be stirred by the Spirit to know God more.

I don’t know if God will ever do that.  I don’t know for sure that this blog that gets about 50 views per post and my small group teaching that averages about 15 people isn’t as big as things will ever get for me.

God is the Author of my story.  He knows what’s going to happen.  I’m just a character waiting to see what’s going to happen on the next page.  But while I wait, I have a responsibility.

In the opening chapters of Joshua, the young leader is transitioning into his undesirable role as the Israelites’ leader into the Promised Land.  The people are camping on the east side of the Jordan river, waiting for the sign to cross and enter the land, when Joshua says this, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you,” (Joshua 3:5).

I’m a pretty lazy person.  If I were an Israelite, my first thought would’ve been, “Uhh, the Lord isn’t going to act until tomorrow.  Can’t we wait and consecrate ourselves then?”

No, that will not do.  The Israelites are to prepare themselves now for the amazing things to come.

More specifically, they were told to consecrate themselves.  That’s a Bibley word.  But what does it really mean?  The Israelites were to make themselves holy in anticipation of what the Lord was about to do.  In other words, they were to act right.  Do right.  Be right.  Say right things.  Make right choices.  Ask forgiveness for past wrong choices and attitudes.  Ask God to clean their hearts.  Really, when it gets down to it, consecrating oneself is about the heart.  Purify their hearts.

After all, no one wants to be the fool in the thick of sin when God shows up to do something amazing.  It’d be like your pastor seeing you out on a date with someone who is not your spouse.  How embarrassed would you be?

Anyway, you and I do not have the benefit of having someone in the flesh instructing us to get ready – purify our hearts of all unrighteousness and be on our best behavior – because the Lord is about to do amazing things among us.  But we can infer from the Bible that this is the case.

God tells us His plans for us are good (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28, Philippians 1:6).

What are we doing to prepare ourselves for the amazing things He’s about to do?

What’s Now vs. What’s Next

It is no secret that I want to write and teach professionally.  I think I teach the gospel in a unique way that connects with people more personally than it usually does.  I get inside the scriptures and explain how they relate to me – an American woman in her 20’s – and you – a reader who is more interested in applying the scriptures than merely learning what they say.

I have a passion for communicating what the Bible actually says as opposed to what we think it says.  I want to help people understand that the scriptures are alive, not in a creepy mad-scientist kind of way, nor in an over-the-top religious nut-job kind of way, but, rather, in a life-giving, life-changing kind of way.

Right now I write this blog.  Tens of tens of people read it each week.  It speaks to them.

I also teach/facilitate two Bible studies for women at my church.  It’s not my material, but I pull out and highlight ideas for these small groups.  Dozens of people grow in their understanding of the Bible and in their relationships with the Lord.

I have the sneaking suspicion that, although my small-scale ministry is super important, God wants to do bigger things through me.

If I’m not careful, and I confess that I rarely am, I can get lost in the day dream of “What’s next?”  I can miss the reality of “What’s now.”

I can get overwhelmed with all the things I need to do to grow my blog.  I can become consumed with nailing down a book idea.  I can worry about how small my platform is and how impossible it seems to enlarge it.  I can get sucked into creating a social media presence and tweaking my website ad nauseum.  There is just so much to do and be and become in order to “make it” as a writer that, frankly, less than 5% of writers actually make it.

All of these thoughts swirled in me this morning as I came across an opportunity.  Women of Faith, an organization that publishes Christian books by women for women and holds conferences by these authors all over the country, has an annual writing contest.  They invite aspiring authors to submit a manuscript, and the winner gets published by Thomas Nelson, one of the largest Christian publishers, for free and may be asked to tour with Women of Faith.

In other words, this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for.

The problem, however, is I haven’t settled on a book idea.  I have a couple of ideas floating around in my mind, but I don’t want to write about what I want to write about.  I won’t settle for my idea.  Mainly because I know it won’t work, or, at the very least, it will have very limited impact.  I refuse to write a book unless the idea is from the Lord.  His message is more important then any message I can come up with.

So pray with me that I will know what it is He wants me to write about.  Pray that I will not jump ahead and force my agenda into written form because He is taking “too long” to lead me.  And pray that I don’t miss “What’s now,” while I consider “What’s next.”

 

 

It’s Called “Flexibility”

I didn’t realize I was a control freak until my first child was born.  Or maybe that’s when I became a control freak.  Either way, I was bound and determined to do everything in my power to be the best and provide the best for my baby.

That’s a noble goal, but I was forgetting something.  I’M NOT IN CONTROL.

My daughter, Lexi, liked to sleep on her stomach.  GASP!  The first week of her life, she would not sleep on her back.  That was not in the plans!  All the books said she had to sleep on her back.  Had she not read those books?!

To ensure that she wouldn’t suffocate in her crib, she slept on my husband’s chest or my chest every night.  We are not back-sleepers.  But we were willing to sacrifice our own shut-eye for our baby.

After a week of waking up with back pain, we decided something had to give.  I bought this monitor that comes with a sensor the baby is supposed to sleep on top of.  If the baby doesn’t move for 10 seconds, the monitor goes off like a smoke alarm, rousing the parents and the baby.  In theory, this is a nifty invention to prevent SIDS.  In reality, no child is going to stay on the sensor all night, resulting in many false alarms that the child is DYING!

Who needs that kind of stress?  Not me.  I returned that monitor unused.

I mentioned our sleeping situation to our pediatrician, and he gave me the best parenting advice I’ve ever heard.  “God made this child, and, if He wants to take the child back, He will.”  Some parents might be offended by this kind of bluntness, but I needed to hear it.  Yeah, I need to do everything within my power to keep my children safe and healthy.  But not everything is within my power.  Parental wisdom is recognizing what I can control and what I can’t.

That night I went home, put Lexi in her crib on her back and left whether or not she would die from SIDS up to God.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the balance between “making a plan” and “trusting God”.  We are called to do both, but “trusting” God has to trump “the plan” if need be.

One morning Simon (a.k.a. Peter), a fisherman, was cleaning his nets after a hard night of fishing.  He hadn’t caught anything all night.  Simon was putting his gear away when Jesus asked him to take Him out on his boat.

I imagine Simon was exhausted from working all night.  I imagine he was also frustrated he had nothing to show for it.  And, if he was living pay check to pay check, he may also have been worried about providing for his basic needs that day.

By this time Jesus had caught the attention of a lot of people.   Simon had certainly heard of Jesus – why else would he have willingly taken this guy out in his boat?  And Simon probably supported Jesus’ message – why else would he have enabled Jesus to teach the crowd from his boat?  And Simon definitely respected Jesus as a rabbi, as is evidenced by Simon calling Jesus “Master”.

So Simon obliged Jesus.  He shoved off from the shore and let the teacher preach to the crowd for awhile.

When Jesus was finished teaching, He said to Simon, “’Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch,’” (Luke 5:4).

I can sense Simon rolling his tired eyes at this point.

I imagine him thinking, “Really, Jesus? Really?  I’ve already been fishing these waters all night.  The fish aren’t interested.  Besides, you’re a CARPENTER.  What do you know about fishing?  Nothing, that’s what.  This is a total waste of time, and I’m not doing it.”

We may never know what Simon was actually thinking, but we do have his surprising response to Jesus’ instructions.  Luke 5:5 reads, “’Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’”

I wonder how long the pause was between those two sentences.

Simon’s plan was to fish all night, bring in a great haul, sell it at the market, and go home.  But that’s not how the day had gone for him.  Quite literally, God had stepped in and asked Simon to change his plans.  Not only that, God had asked Simon to change from a logical plan to an illogical plan.

At that point, Simon had a choice: continue with his original plan or yield his plan to God’s.

If Simon had just gone home and slept, he would have missed the financial blessing of catching so many fish that his nets broke.  But he also would have missed the spiritual mind-blowing that Jesus gave Him that day.  Undoubtedly, Simon’s faith increased tremendously because of that experience.

Like Simon, maybe you’re doing what you are supposed to be doing, but you aren’t seeing any results.  Maybe God is calling you to trust Him and change the plan.  Maybe God is testing you.  Will you let down the nets one more time just because God says to?

Take a page out of Simon’s book and obey, even if it makes no sense.  You never know what life-changing, faith-increasing blessing may be waiting for you.

Plans

Last week a friend asked me after my first post on Hosea if I was going to stay in Hosea for awhile.  And because my first impulse is always in line with God’s plan, I immediately answered, “No, I am going to go back to Jonah since that is what I am preparing to teach in the Fall.”

And God smiled at my innocent presumptuousness.

As my friend and I continued to talk about Hosea, I realized a lot of verses had really grabbed my attention.  Half a dozen blog posts were swirling in my head.

And God smiled as the light bulb went off in my head that maybe I should stay in Hosea for awhile.

I have a lot of these kinds of moments with my kids.

I sit and watch them try to figure something out.  I may even offer a suggestion that will lead them to the solution.  But they either don’t act on my advice or remain confused.  So they continue to rely on their own intelligence to reach their goal.  I sit back and smile, watching the wheels in their minds spin, knowing that they will eventually resolve the problem at hand, and enjoying my front row seat to the process.  Because when they finally get it, their little faces light up with pride and excitement that is worth the price of frustration they’ve paid.

That’s the kind of satisfaction God had with me the other day when I finally realized He wants me to keep writing about Hosea.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21