An unfair exchange

We’re all called to something. Something odious. At least it’s odious for me. Sacrifice. Let me make one thing clear at the beginning. At my core, I despise sacrifice. I try to avoid it at all costs. Who really wants to sacrifice their wants, desires and pleasures? Even for a good cause… Seriously, even if we do “sacrifice” our time for a good cause, at the heart of it… Isn’t it just something we do to make us feel better about ourselves? True Sacrifice – gut wrenching, painful sacrifice is impossible – at least it is for me.

Yet, Jesus demands it. If you study the gospel of Mark, you might notice an event in the 8th chapter that sort of splits Mark’s gospel into two sections. The first section is Jesus showing his disciples and followers that He, indeed, is the long-awaited for Messiah. He heals and teaches and heals, and performs miracles and heals and teaches some more. The crowds are amazed.

At the end of Mark 8, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks them who the crowds say that He is. And after they answer, Jesus says, “Yes, but who do YOU say that I am?” Peter says, “You are the Christ.” And this is a turning point in Mark’s gospel.

It’s a subtle split, but Jesus turns his focus more on training the twelve in that dreaded topic: sacrifice. Check it out…

Mark 8:34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Mark 8:35-36 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Mark 9:35 If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.

Mark 10:43-44 But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

Mark even illustrates this principle of sacrifice in story form… Remember the rich, young ruler? He wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus asks him to sacrifice the one thing he loves most – his possessions. The man can’t and leaves broken-hearted. His disciples are incredulous. “Who can be saved?” they ask. Jesus gives the good news. “With man this is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).

I cannot muster the ability to sacrifice from within myself.

I have dreams you know… And they aren’t selfish desires – they are good desires, but for now, I can’t pursue them because of the time it requires to care for Anne. I have it easy actually. God has given me an easy choice.

  1. Pursue your own desires and let someone else care for Anne. OR
  2. Sacrifice and care for Anne.

Like I’m going to choose not to care for my own daughter.

But here’s where the mystery is revealed. Here is the paradox that I could have never uncovered on my own. You know what you find when you sacrifice your own desires and wants and dreams? And I don’t mean the “sacrifices” that make us feel better about ourselves. No, I mean the gut wrenching, I HATE THIS kind of sacrifice. Because that’s how I feel most of the time. I HATE THIS.

You know what I’ve found. Do you know what’s at the bottom of the deep well of sacrifice? What’s waiting when you really let Jesus be the King and surrender to that horrible thing he’s asked you to do – the thing you could never do by yourself? Do you know what’s waiting for you? Satisfaction.

As gut wrenching as the sacrifice is, the satisfaction on the other side is… well, it’s other-worldly. Jesus doesn’t ask us to sacrifice because He wants to make our lives miserable. He does it because He knows that it is the only way to find true, soul-filling satisfaction in this world. He asks us to sacrifice because He loves us.

And Jesus, looking at [the rich young ruler], loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

And the rich, young ruler couldn’t. And neither can I. Yet, somehow in the letting go and asking for help, Jesus does the impossible and sacrifices through me – and I get to experience that joy that surpasses all understanding. It’s not fair actually. I definitely don’t deserve it. But I’ll take it :-)

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What then will this child be?

Yesterday, I wrote about Zechariah and how God brought good from his unbelief when his new son, John, was baptized.

Because of all the miracles surrounding John’s birth and baptism, the people wandered about John. “What then will this child be?” John the Baptist lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel. His dress and diet were typical of a poor desert dweller. His fiery words wouldn’t score him any popularity points. John was not rich in the things of this earth, but he was “strong in SPIRIT” (Luke 1:80).

John the Baptist was no earthly good, yet God used John… MIGHTILY to prepare the people for repentance and faith in Jesus.

This is so typical of God’s Kingdom. The economy is different. Money, power and fame don’t get you very far in God’s Kingdom. His currency is humility, compassion and obedience. Whenever I think about the “upside-down-ness” of God’s Kingdom, I think about Anne…

Anne’s brain injury has stripped her of all earthly good.  But she is STRONG… in Spirit! I take great comfort in this truth. It makes me wonder, “What then will this child be?”  I don’t expect her to be the next John the Baptist!  But I do hope that God has big plans for my simple little girl :-)

Pressing, Multiplying and Bringing about Good

I’ve been reading through the gospels lately. I was tempted to skim through the birth account in Luke, but something made me slow down… Zechariah. You know the priest who went to the temple and an angel appeared to him and said he was going to have a son, and to name him John – and then Zechariah didn’t believe him, so the angel made him mute. Remember him? :-)

It just kinda hit me that maybe Zechariah was made mute to develop his character. God just wasn’t being mean – it was actually a loving act of discipline. When the baby was born, Zechariah obeyed God by ensuring his name was “John,” and his speech was returned in the presence of many witnesses, thus God received GLORY.

God is also glorified through the private goings-on in Zechariah’s heart during those 9 long months. I imagine Zechariah’s heart was changed from unbelief to repentance to grumbling to surrender to contentment to anticipation to praise. Whatever happened in Zechariah, it was good! God’s glory was also revealed not only in the miraculous return of Zechariah’s voice – but that his first words were not cursing God for the hardship but blessing and prophesy…

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David (Luke 1:68-69).

God took Zechariah’s unbelief, pressed it down and multiplied it into more good than Zechariah could muster in his muteness. God’s good at that. And I love the people’s response!

And a fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him (Luke 1:65-66).

What then will this child be???? I’ll write about that tomorrow :-)