Sacrifices…

I am currently reading Leviticus, the book of laws that God gave the Israelites on their way to the Promised Land. As I read it, I find that I am so grateful!
I am thankful that I do not have to travel to a certain location, like the Tabernacle, in order to be forgiven.
I am grateful that I don’t have to bring a sheep, a ram, a bull or some pigeons to be made right with God.
And that I don’t have to talk to Him through a priest.
I am thankful that I live under grace and not under The Law.
And I am grateful that Emmanuel, God with us, became The Way to God the Father so that the Holy Spirit of the Living God can live inside of me, making my body His temple and my heart His home.

But as I think about the sacrifices and offerings the Israelite were required to bring to God, I am reminded that there are still sacrifices to be made.
Still items to be brought daily, in an act of worship, before the Living God.
Not because He needs them.
Or because He needs me.
But because He is worth them.
Worthy of any sacrifice I can bring.

Here are three daily sacrifices that the Words says bring Him great delight:

First, a sacrifice of praise.
Sometimes, praise springs up naturally in my heart and to my lips.
A beautiful sunrise
A snuggly baby
A scene of beauty
Or an act of kindness

These things can all trigger me to say, “Wow, God, that’s awesome! You do such good work! YOU are so awesome!”

Those things are not a sacrifice of praise.

But when things aren’t going my way…
When I am tired – physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually…
When someone disappoints me, again…
When God disappoints me, again…
When I do not understand His ways…
When I do not like the answer He gives…

That is when I must bring Him a sacrifice of praise.
You see, a sacrifice must cost me something in order to be a sacrifice.

And in this case, it often costs me things I don’t want to pay.
Like my control of a situation
Or my need to understand
My need to be understood
My pride
Or my selfishness

In order to praise God IN ALL THINGS, I must lay down myself.
I must lay those things down.
And I must yield to His higher ways.
I must submit to the idea that He is God and I am not.
And I must choose to remember that He is good. Even when He is not who I think He should be, He is good.
Even when His timetable does not match mine, He is good.
Even when He seems far, far away, He is good.

A sacrifice of praise forces me to lay down my need to control, my need to be right, my need to be needed, my need to be vindicated.
Because it puts God back in first place where He belongs.
Not because I understand Him.
Not because we are on the same page.
Not because He has done something I like.
But because He is good.
Because He deserves it.
Because He is worth it.
Worth laying down me to focus on Him.

Which leads to the next sacrifice – the sacrifice of obedience.

I don’t actually like a lot of what Jesus said.
I want to explain it away.
Make it say something slightly – or even vastly – different.
Like, instead of “Love your enemies” I want it to say, “Pray for fire and brimstone to come down on your enemies.”
Instead of “Pray for those who hurt you” I want it to say, “You can ignore, shut off and distance yourself from those who hurt you.”
Instead of “Forgive as you have been forgiven” I want it to say, “You deserve to hold a grudge because they hurt you.”

But regardless of how I feel about any of it, what He said, He said.
And He said, “Obedience = Love”.
He said, “If you love me, you will obey me.”
He said, “If you follow me, you will live as I live.”
He said, “If you say you love me but don’t live this way, you don’t really love me.”

So, for HIS sake, I will bring a sacrifice of obedience.

Which once again means laying down my pride.
My selfishness.
My right to be angry.
My right to be vindicated.
My right to be heard, understood, loved, needed, appreciated.
The list goes on and on.

But when I lay down me and obey Him, I am bringing something far more valuable than a lamb.
Something far more valuable than any material thing I can bring.

Which brings me to the third sacrifice.

The sacrifice of priority. The giving over of first place.

Whose kingdom will I look after first?
His? Or mine?
Whose agenda will I choose?
His? Or mine?
Whose reputation will I seek to exalt?
His? Or mine?

Who will I make a priority?
Those I like? Or those He loves?
Who will I seek to glorify?
Him? Or me?
Who will I live for?
Him? Or me?

Again, this takes laying down myself. And blocking my ears to the messages I constantly hear all around me – and even in me.

“If I don’t look after me, who will?”
“Gotta take care of number one!”
“I am enough.”
“Make a name for yourself.”
“You can do it!”
“If you believe it, you can achieve it.”
“Dig down deep in yourself and you will find all you need.”

In contrast to what the Bible says:

“God, You alone are my supply.”
“God, I will make You number one in my finances, my time, my talent.”
“God, I am not enough. But You are everything I need.”
“God, I want to live for Your name, Your glory, Your fame. They don’t need to know my name – they need to know YOURS.”
“God, I can do nothing without You and everything in You.”
“God, I believe YOU can do anything. Please do what You will.”
“God, I am empty and unable to meet my own needs. But You can supply all that I need – starting with my need to lay down me and lift You high.”

Three sacrifices.
Or really, just one.

Paul begged the believers at Rome to get this.
He said, “I beg you to lay down yourself on the altar. You can only do it by God’s mercy. But do it. It is the only reasonable response to what God has done for you. And here’s the secret – when you do it, when you lay yourself down, God shows up in big ways. He’ll change you from the inside, out. He’ll transform the way you think. He’ll show you all you need to know to keep following Him – all the best ways to live. You really can trust Him!” (Romans 12:1-2, in Kathy-phrase)

So glad I don’t have to be a sheepherder or a cattle farmer to be a Christ-follower.
I don’t need a pasture full of lambs, rams and cows to follow Him.

But I do need to bring a daily sacrifice.
Of praise.
Of obedience.
Of priorities.

I am prone to climbing off the altar.
But I know from experience that it is the only place to find real life.
Real joy.
Real adventure.
Real abundance.

So once again, today, I lay me down.
So I can lift Him high.
Will you join me?

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You? Or Me? On Following God’s Own Fool…

Who is more important, me or you?
Whose feelings should matter the most to me, mine or yours?
Who should I look after, you or me?
When it comes down to it, who goes first, you or me?
Who gets the last piece of that yummy thing, you or me?
Who gets first choice from the delicious feast, me or you?

When you get praised and I don’t, who is more important, you or me?
When you get the raise and I don’t, am I happy for you or sad for me?
When you succeed where I have failed, how do I react? Is it about you or me?

When I love you but you don’t love me back, what do I do?
When I put you first but you put me last, what do I do?
When I pray for you but you revile me, what do I do?

The world screams, “You have to take care of you. After all, if you don’t, who will?”
Jesus said, “If you want to be great in the Kingdom of God, learn to be a servant of all.”

The world shouts, “You have rights! Stand up for yourself! Stand up for your rights!”
Jesus “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted [as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it]; but emptied Himself by assuming the form of a bond-servant.” A human. An innocent criminal, sentenced to death on my behalf.

The world says, “Don’t give too much! They’ll take advantage of you.”
Jesus said, “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also [for the Lord repays the offender]. And whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”

The world says, “You only have to love those who are lovely – those who look like you, think like you, act like you.”
Jesus said, “I say to you, love [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for] your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may [show yourselves to] be the children of your Father who is in heaven… For if you love [only] those who love you, what reward do you have?”

Impossible stuff.
I can’t put your needs ahead of my own.
I might lose out if I do that.

I can’t love you more than I love me.
They’ll say I’m weak if I do that.

I can’t “consider your interests ahead of my own”.
I won’t get what I need in that equation.

After all, I have to look out for me, right?

But what if…

What if God meant it when He said He would supply my needs?
What if He meant it when He said that He would vindicate me?
What if God takes the job of being my Shepherd incredibly seriously?
What if my life rests on His reputation and not my own?
What if I decided to risk loving as He loves?
What if His power really is at work in me, giving me the strength to do the impossible?

Will He really have my back?
Will He really take care of me?
Will He really be my shield and my defender?
Will He really fight for me?

Or is He a liar?

The way I live…
The way I love…
The way I give…
Those are my answers to that question, is God a liar?
The choices I make and actively live out declare what I believe far more than my words ever will.

Do I believe God and therefore live His way, even when it is risky?
Or do I only say I believe?

Do I trust Him to keep His promises, even when everything in me screams I should protect myself?
Or is that just lip service?

For me, it comes down to this:
I have been greatly loved.
Completely forgiven.
And thoroughly gifted.

Therefore, I am going to:
Live fully, trusting God for the outcomes.
Love boldly, risking rejection, pain and hurt.
And celebrate joyfully all the glory He gets in the end.

The world will call me foolish for that.
But I will choose to follow “God’s Own Fool”, as Michael Card sings.
Here are the lyrics and a link to the song.
May you and I choose to “believe the unbelievable and come be a fool as well”.

God’s Own Fool
Michael Card

Seems I’ve imagined Him all of my life
As the wisest of all of mankind
But if God’s Holy wisdom is foolish to men
He must have seemed out of His mind

For even His family said He was mad
And the priests said a demon’s to blame
But God in the form of this angry young man
Could not have seemed perfectly sane

When we in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
When we in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong

And so we follow God’s own fool
For only the foolish can tell-
Believe the unbelievable
And come be a fool as well

So come lose your life for a carpenter’s son
For a madman who died for a dream
And you’ll have the faith His first followers had
And you’ll feel the weight of the beam

So surrender the hunger to say you must know
Have the courage to say I believe
For the power of paradox opens your eyes
And blinds those who say they can see

So we follow God’s own Fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable,
And come be a fool as well

On Shrek, Shearing and The Shepherd

Do you know the story of Shrek the sheep?

He gained fame in 2004 when he was finally shorn after six years. Sheep are usually shorn annually but Shrek had avoided capture by hiding out in caves in his native New Zealand. By the time they finally caught him and sheared him, he yielded 60 pounds of wool, enough to create 20 large men’s suits.

All that wool could not have been comfortable! In fact, it was dangerous. If a sheep falls over on its back (or is “cast down”) and cannot get up, it is only a matter of minutes before dangerous gases build up in their stomachs and kill them. Shrek’s overly large burden of wool would have made it impossible for him to get up if he was ever “cast down”. By the time he was caught, the wool had covered his eyes as well. It is amazing that he evaded predators, natural dangers inherent to sheep like being cast down and even injuries during his six-year rebellion.

All because he did not want to be shorn.

Now, not all sheep are like Shrek. Some breeds naturally shed their fleece if they are not shorn. But a Merino’s fleece just keeps growing and growing. It makes them fantastic wool producers – but terrible rebels.

I love that throughout Scripture God uses living object lessons to help us to understand Himself and the very best ways to live. One of the most common in the Word is the picture that we are sheep and He is the Good Shepherd. I have been “chewing” on Psalm 23, “The Shepherd’s Psalm”, for the last few weeks. As I was thinking through the many, many ways that we are like sheep, it occurred to me that one of the only things sheep are really good for is shearing. They are not designed to be beasts of burden or any kind of hauling animal. (And that is a blog post for another day – how we tend to think we are oxen or horses or donkeys, designed to carry all of our burdens ourselves, when that was never the plan…)

But back to sheep. And specifically, Shrek the sheep. And how we are just like him.

We don’t like to let go, do we?
Whether it is resources or talents or time, we much prefer to hoard what we have been given.
But, just like Shrek, the more we hoard, the less freedom we have.
The more burdened we are.
And we miss the blessing of blessing others.

The theory is that Shrek hid out to avoid the possible pain of shearing. And I am sure that those 20 minutes under the clippers are not fun for any sheep. They may be painful if the shearer nicks the skin. And I am sure it is frightening to be held in place while a strange buzzing thing comes after you. But the freedom that comes on the other side! The weight that is lifted – that has to be an amazing feeling.

Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) He also told instructed the disciples regarding sharing the gospel, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) The principle is taught over and over again in Scripture. Your best life is not achieved by hoarding the blessings, whatever they are. Your time, talent and treasure do not get multiplied by hoarding. Instead, they grow best and are best used when they are freely shared under the direction of your Good Shepherd.

You see, Shrek could not stop himself from producing wool. It’s what Merino sheep are wired to do.

As a Christ-follower, the fruit of the Spirit should be popping up in your life as you follow Him. And the blessings of grace should be more and more evident as you live more and more in the eternal perspective. It’s what Christ-followers are wired to do.

If Shrek had submitted himself to the shepherd, his life would have been richer, fuller and much, much easier. The weight of the wool would have been lifted. And others would have been blessed sooner because he willingly submitted to the shears.

As a Christ-follower, if you will submit yourself to the Shepherd, your life will be fuller, richer and much, much easier. Yes, the shearer will come. The clippers may even nick you. And you will not always understand the Shepherd’s ways. But if you will trust Him, He has promised to lead you. To protect you. To guide you in the best possible paths for your life.

Which includes showing you how to use the resources of time, talent and treasure that He has given you in ways that will benefit so many more people than just yourself. There will be tough stuff that comes up, for sure. Jesus promised that it would! He said, “In this world you WILL have trouble.” But He followed that with the promise: “But be encouraged – I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) You will still be a sheep facing the shearer. You will still have moments of fear and confusion. And you will not always love the process. But you will always, always have the Shepherd with you, comforting you, guiding you, guarding you, and providing for you. So you can let go of the wool. You can let go of the rebellion. The hiding. And protecting yourself. If you will simply yield.

And when you do?
Who knows what the 60 pounds of wool you have been hoarding can do to change the world!
Take the risk – trust the Shepherd.
Ask Him to shear you of what you have been hoarding – and feel the freedom that will bring. He is worth the risk!

———
If you want to read more about Shrek, check out this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrek_(sheep)

If you want to know more about the picture of the sheep and the Good Shepherd that the Bible presents – including the idea of being “cast down” check out the book “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by W. Phillip Keller.

W.A.I.T.

I hate waiting.
Waiting in line.
Waiting at a traffic light.
Waiting to hear news, good or bad.

Those are all inconvenient, annoying waits.

But then there is the big one:
Waiting on God.

I want to know.
And I want to know now.
What is the answer?
How are You going to move?
What is my next step?
Where?
When?
How?
What if?

Waiting. I must admit, sometimes I do it better than others.
And when I do it well, it is all about my focus.
What has my undivided attention?
Am I staring fixedly at whatever it is I am waiting for?
Or are my eyes locked onto the God who loves me?

When I focus on what I am waiting for, I am concentrating on a perceived lack in my life.
Something I am convinced I need. Or something I just know will make me happy.
Something He is not doing. Or something I want Him to stop allowing to happen.

But when I focus on HIM, the waiting gets much, much easier.
I remember that He is for me and not against me.
That He is the God who fights for me.
And the God who “works for those who wait for Him.” (Isaiah 64)
I remember that He loved me enough, long before I was born, to provide The Way for Him to be my Provider. My Protector. My Sustainer. My Strength. And the Grace to wait.

So here is my decision:
I am going to wait well.
Because waiting well is a choice.
Just like so many other things in life.

And to help me to know how to wait well, God gave me this acronym:

As I wait, I will be WILLING.
Willing for God to be God.
Willing to let Him have His way.
Willing to marinate in His Word instead of my feelings.
Willing to choose to “walk by faith and not by sight”.
Or, put another way, willing to walk with HIM as my focus, as my “sight” rather than my circumstances.

As I wait, I will be AVAILABLE.
Holding my plans loosely.
Laying down my desires daily on His altar. Saying, without fear, “Your will be done.”
Trusting that His plans, ways, and desires for me far outweigh the glory of my own.
An automatic “Yes” in both words and actions to whatever He is prompting me to do.
And an automatic stopping of whatever He is telling me to stop doing.

As I wait, I will be INTENTIONAL.
I will intentionally take every thought captive to Christ.
I will intentionally choose to not worry and fret.
I will intentionally choose to not try to solve the situation on my own.
And I will act with intention in my prayer life. My reading life. My downtime life. And my serving life. Every part of my life.
Putting Him first.
Cheerfully living in the now instead of the not yet.
Cheerfully accepting that this is where He has me.
And intentionally letting Him use me here.
Even in the waiting room.

And finally, as I wait, I will choose to TRUST.
That is all of the above summed up in one word.
And it is all found in One Word.
The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1)

Because that Word waited on God as well.
Jesus trusted His Father to guide Him.
He prayed all the time, consistently going off to be alone with the Father.
He waited God’s timing on when to start His earthly ministry.
He waited on God to lead Him to His disciples.
And He waited until just the right time to die on the cross.
And even in that, He waited for three days before He was resurrected.

If Jesus, the Son of God, and God Incarnate, could choose to wait on His Father, how much more should I?

If Jesus “entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly” (I Peter 2) even as people insulted and mocked him, nailing Him to a cross, how much more can I entrust myself to that same Father?

If Jesus trusts the time of His return to His Father (Matthew 24), how much more can I trust the timing of my life to that same incredible Dad?

Do I want the answers to ALL of my questions NOW?
Of course I do!

But since that is not going to happen, I can choose to be miserable, trying to figure it all out, trying to make it happen, trying to manipulate the timing and control the outcome.
In other words, I can choose to be my own god, worshiping at the altar of my desires, bound by the limitations of my human insight and my own paltry strength.

Or I can W.A.I.T.

I can choose to live out:

Willing
Accepting
Intentional
Trust

In the God who made me.
Who adores me.
And Who has promised to never leave me or forsake me.
To work all things together for my good and His glory.
And to finish what He started in my life.

I want to wait well.
Will you W.A.I.T. with me?