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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Can Separation Ever Be Good?

The Lord has been trying to get me to agree with Him on something for months… or has it been years? I can’t remember.

Anyway, He finally found a way that even I – the woman who could have been a lawyer – can’t argue with.

If you like your life the way it is, I suggest you close your browser.

I’ll wait.

Still here?

Okay…

So the background I can share with you is I am fiercely loyal. If we ever become friends, we will be friends until I die. When I care (caveat), I care deeply… and forever.

Which can be a problem when life separates us.

I moved a lot as a kid, and I still deeply miss and regularly think about my childhood friends. We don’t interact beyond Facebook, and I have no delusions that we would still be the best of friends today if only we lived near one another… But I’m not surprised when the casualties of moving show up in my dreams… weekly. And I still get sad I’m not 9 anymore.

And then there was high school. I had amazing friends back then – the kinds of friendships that only happen in movies. We were inseparable and forever changed for the better for having known one another. I think fondly about one or more of those people every. single. day.

With a background like this, it’s easy for me to feel like separation is never a good idea. It’s easy for me to view it as an evil to be avoided at all costs.

And I’ve been trying to convince God I’m right for quite awhile… He isn’t buying it.

Because He knows that sometimes separation is good.

Did I really just say that? Me? The girl who goes through the 7 stages of grief when her favorite FICTIONAL TV shows are cancelled?

Yes, I can’t keep saying separation is always wrong and bad… because God says otherwise. And no matter how much I Hate with a capital H that this is true, that doesn’t make it any less true…

Why can’t I just be a post-modern who doesn’t believe in truth?

Sigh.

That’s a different post.

For now, would you like to know what finally convinced me I must call some separation good?

No? Close your browser.

I’ll wait.

Still here?

Okay…

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, God the Father and God the Son, Jesus, were separated… it happened only once, but it happened nonetheless. There was a boundary, if you will, when Jesus lamented from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). It’s hard to say what exactly happened at that moment, but it’s clear the Father turned away from the Son in some way.

Lean in close…

Since God never does anything that isn’t good, we have to conclude this separation was good.

And if separation can be good for the Father and the Son, even just once, we have to conclude there might come a time when it would be good in our human relationships too.

I know.

I don’t like it either.

Truth be told, it terrifies me.

But it helps me to take notice of a couple things about the Father and the Son’s separation…

  1. It was temporary. Don’t get me wrong, it was extremely painful. But it didn’t last forever. In fact, it only lasted three days.
  2. It didn’t change how they felt about each other. Neither the Father nor the Son lost one ounce of affection for each other while they were apart. If they hadn’t already shared the maximum amount of love for one another possible, I’d even say such a separation would have increased their love for one another. Father pride swells when children do right…
  3. It was for the greater good. The Lord redeemed humanity via that separation. Turns out that break was the only way to restore what always should have been.
  4. The reunion was sweet. In the story of the prodigal son, the father’s joy is unbounded when he is reunited with his son. And, so, too, I am confident, was the Father’s joy when He got His Boy back.

I imagine these four characteristics can be applied to any separations we experience in our human relationships… I know they all aren’t always going to be true… and even if they were, the hurt will still steal our breath and wet our eyes as we walk in obedience…

But maybe we can ask the Lord for the faith to believe that maybe just one or two of these ideas will be true in our lives? And maybe they can help us be brave when He calls us to separate from people we love?

The One Thing God Will Never Ask You to Sacrifice

I wrestled long through the night, trying to convince God my situation is the exception to His rule…to His Word. He listened while I presented my argument 1,000 different ways, but my logic couldn’t change His mind.

God is God so He is always right.

When I awoke the next morning, I was tired. From the lack of sleep, yes, but even more so from the fighting to make myself Him… to take His place as the One who calls the shots…

Well.

He does intend on making me like Him, but not Him.

I could tell I’d lost my case the night before, and I was desperate. So I did all I could do – I shot straight with Him. Finally.

Through my tears I poured out the heart behind all my lobbying. And through His tears He talked me through the truth.

“It’s not fair…” I railed, less like a toddler and more like a battered soul that can’t take one more punch. And with no pause He responded “No, it’s not… And it wasn’t fair that Jesus hung on a cross for crimes He hadn’t committed but He did it anyway because of love.”

“Jesus sacrificed Himself even though it hurt,” God continued. “And don’t think for a minute it didn’t hurt. When Christ called out to Me from the cross, it was a cry – ‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?'”

Tears formed faster than I could blink them away.

God went on.

“‘With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last,’ the scriptures say. Jesus’ sacrifice hurt Him. But He did it anyway. Because He was motivated by love for you.”

The words confounded me. How? How could Jesus knowingly – willingly – walk into such pain and keep His focus so narrowly on the joy on the other side?

The truth of the matter is loving sacrificially will hurt me too, but I can’t look Jesus in the eye and tell Him He doesn’t know. I can’t tell Him my hurt is greater than His was. The difference between me and Jesus is that His sacrifice cost Him the Father… when Jesus took our sin, He and the Father were separated

As I learn to sacrifice, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, one thing I will never have to say is, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Jesus had to give up even that – His relationship with His Father. I may be called to go to great lengths, but that will never be one of them.

God brought me back from my thoughts. “I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU,” He emphasized to me. “I will walk with you, one foot in front of the other. And you may limp. And it will hurt. So if you need to put your arm around My neck, I will support you.

And we will walk. Together. One foot in front of the other.”