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Sacrifice

mother sacrificeSacrifice is a mystery. One of the many throughout the scriptures and human history. I believe people are wired for life. Oh, I know there is still large numbers of suicides, people who chose otherwise. But still, for now, the norm is to live. Our bodies work hard to keep us alive, sometimes under terrific stress and pain. Stories of torture, starvation, and deprivation abound with the resilience of human courage and yes, even faith.

For this reason, in my view, any story of life sacrifice for the sake of another is hero time: people who leap into rushing waters to save someone or, in broader terms, our first responders and military warriors who go into battle for the sake of others, or parents who die while covering their children from harm, or teachers in the face of murderers shielding their students. Something within causes them to act.

Why do they do it? Love, honor, commitment, and perhaps destiny.

In my faith tradition, the story of Jesus, the Christ (Messiah) is a story of sacrifice for the same reasons, but for the sake of the many, not just the one. In the mystery of God’s story, humanity needed a reboot. And only by sacrifice would it work. This idea is foreign to our modern culture. And yet, for 2000 years, embraced and believed.

sacrifice2For Christ didn’t enter the earthly version of the Holy Place; he entered the Place Itself, and offered himself to God as the sacrifice for our sins. He doesn’t do this every year as the high priests did under the old plan with blood that was not their own; if that had been the case, he would have to sacrifice himself repeatedly throughout the course of history. But instead he sacrificed himself once and for all, summing up all the other sacrifices in this sacrifice of himself, the final solution of sin. [Hebrews 9:24-26, The Message]

None of us know what we will do in the face of emergency. Will we rise to the moment? Will I? I don’t know. But I am grateful for the One who did die and rise, bringing the world full circle. And I thank the individuals who model sacrifice as a way of life, for their actions inspire.

Giving of Self

Mike Brown.

Mike Brown.

Today, Feb 23rd is my husband’s birthday. My deceased husband, that is. And I’ve rather put that fact on the back burner all day. I did a little Facebook post, but in a hurry, keeping the feelings at bay.

But now, the day is winding down and it’s time to ponder today’s devotion. So, what jumps out at me, “They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.” [2 Corinthians 8:5b, NIV] But not like this, the words come out more like this: “He [Mike] gave himself first of all to the Lord, and then, by the will of God, also to me.”

Like many men, Mike, never fully trusted the women in his life. And yet, of all the women, he trusted me the most. And I can say that with some appreciation for a fight hard won. But whatever he might have withheld from me, he held nothing back from God, from the Christ. To God, he was devoted. I benefited from his faith, for it led the way to our marriage, our adopted children, and our 32 years together.

Mike was peculiar and saw everything through a unique lens. He didn’t really expect anyone to look through the same lens with him, but he did ask that people respect his point of view. It took me a while to get that. The Sarah in me wanted to change him. The Eve in me wanted to turn him. The Bathsheba in me wanted to lure him. But he was a steadfast man, even stubborn, which served his faith.

It wasn’t like he didn’t change over those years. He did. We both did, becoming less conservative and perhaps more progressive in the way we wanted to walk out our love for God. Mike was the first to reach out to people outside the box from men in prison to orphans in Africa. He could talk to just about anyone.

Mike gave hours and hours to the church, particularly our current church in its mission to reach people far away from God and bring them closer to new life in Christ. It’s a mission that resonated with Mike, but behind the scenes.

He was a good man. And today, we would have gone out to dinner and toasted to another year of blessings, and he would have said, one year closer to retirement, that is from his day job. Mike would have worked tirelessly for God until the end. Well, he did that anyway. I know his last word would have been the name of Jesus.

Daniel Fast

fruits and veggiesThe roots of the Daniel Fast come from this portion of the book of Daniel who circumvented the commands of King Jehoiakim of Babylon, who conscripted several bright men from the Israelites to be trained and to serve in the king’s palace. But part of their training was to eat and drink from the royal food (something most people would jump at the chance to do — something like being invited to the White House to eat 3 squares for 3 years]. But Daniel considered the food of Babylonia defiled and came up with a test:

Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. [Daniel 1:11-16, NIV]

So, a few of us at Restore Church  will be working a modern day interpretation of this fast for 21 days. Susan Gregory wrote a book about the fast and has promoted it around the country since 2007. It’s actually a “partial fast” which means that we will only be fasting from certain foods and not others. In this case, we will be abstaining from all meats, fish, dairy, coffee and carbonated drinks. The Daniel Fast website has a complete food list.

The first question everyone asks is why? It’s a good and valid question. Personally, I have done a pretty good amount of fasting, at least once a year. But in all of those cases, I have done a complete fast, finding the partial fast too difficult. But I am drawn this time to the regimen and sharing the experience with others. During this time, I will continue to add my other Lenten practices. Basically, I’m curious. And there are health reasons too. I am testing these waters as well. Will I feel better?

There will be more food preparation and in some ways, I worry a bit about the time involved, something that full fasting releases me from having to think about. Nonetheless, I am forging ahead. And perhaps, there will be a mind-body-spirit integration that I could not have predicted.

Day one begins March 6.

Cool Cup of Water

cool waterIt’s such a small thing, to give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, and yet, we are asked to do this very small act. Matthew records Jesus’s words this way [Matthew 10:42, CEB] I assure you that everybody who gives even a cup of cold water to these little ones because they are my disciples will certainly be rewarded.”

If we profess to be followers of Christ Jesus, then the norm is acts of giving in times of need. It’s being aware of need. It’s recognizing need in our midst, whether it’s holding a baby when the Mom is tired or picking up trash on a neighbor’s yard or taking someone to the airport or the doctor or to the grocery store. A cup of water is symbolic for a response to need.

Not terribly convenient this type of giving. But what is even more amazing is that each and every one of these acts of kindness, done in the name of Jesus, merits a reward. Not that we do these things for the reward, but listen, it’s a promise. It’s God’s way of saying thanks.

It’s the same with any giving, from actions to offerings to tithing. Anything given, particularly those things we do without fanfare, bless the Spirit of God. And when God smiles, although it is not something we can see, there is a ripple effect, a passing puff of air, just a little more light [Matthew 6:1-4}

 

Lenten Promises

Lenten heartOn Ash Wednesday, at Restore Church we had an opportunity for some self-directed worship through meditations on light, clay, the communion elements, and promises (written on cards). I had the honor of collecting these cards and finally, today, read through them. They are filled with hope and sacrifice, renewal and confession. I share them here, all anonymous, as the gifts they offered to God in Jesus’ name.

Letting Go of . . .

  • Two meals a day (promised by several people)
  • French Fries (promised by several people)
  • Sugary drinks & sodas (promised by several people)
  • The Past
  • Spending
  • Coffee (promised by several people)
  •  Cell phone at night (promised by several people)
  • Repetitive thoughts of loneliness
  • Social networking (promised by many people)
  • Red meat
  • Food by fasting each day until 6 pm
  • Sin
  • Gossiping
  • Amount of time on the phone (promised by several people)
  • One meal a day (promised by several people)
  • Candy and/or sweets and/or refined sugar (promised by many people)
  • Negative comments
  • TV after 7 pm
  • Complaining
  • Judging others
  • Snacks
  • Soda (promised by several people)
  • Angry thoughts at work
  • Food by fasting lunch
  • Resentments and unforgiveness
  • Food by fasting one day a week
  • Internet surfing
  • Words with Friends
  • Movies
  • Future Plans
  • Guilt & shame & jealousy
  • Smoking

Do any these resonate with you? Some of these items are not inherently bad but simply eat up our time and energy. Another set are actually bad for our bodies, the sacred physical home of Christ’s Spirit, and yet some are besetting feelings and sins that are constantly begging for free reign in our hearts. Letting go of some of these things are a sacrifice while others are a prayer. Many of these promises are difficult to measure, to assess our growth or success in this venture, in this time of journey with Christ. These less tangible things could be spoken each day, or many times a day, for they are really a prayer.

Gods promiseThe second list encompasses the adds, what we promise to add to our lives as we let go of the other things. We will fill our days and time instead with . . .

  • Read the Bible (promised by many)
  • Praise God
  • Pray (promised by more than half)
  • Reflect
  • Give thanks
  • Pray morning, noon, and night
  • Serve intentionally (promised by several)
  • Pray for my family (promised by several)
  • Write devotionally each day
  • Talk intensely with God
  • Study the Bible
  • Listen in prayer (5 am)
  • Read a Devotion each day
  • Draw closer to God and/or spend time alone with God
  • Wake up early to read, pray etc.
  • Praying every Monday
  • Say one positive thing to a different person each day
  • Submerge myself in the word
  • Save money

Are there any surprises here? We know what to do. We know how to draw closer to God. So, we can either berate ourselves for what we have not done before, or simply, choose: Today, I begin. No rules. Just promise.

Waiting for the Fire

flame of loveListen, God! Please, pay attention!
Can you make sense of these ramblings,
my groans and cries?
    King-God, I need your help.
Every morning
    you’ll hear me at it again.
Every morning
    I lay out the pieces of my life
    on your altar
    and watch for fire to descend. [Psalm 5:1-3, The Message]

Have you ever just prayed and prayed for something in particular? And prayed. And still the heavens are silent. We’re waiting for the fire to descend, the fire of the Holy Spirit to step into the situation, to alter it, to heal it, to divide it, to just manifest! Darn it!

I believe in the fire of heaven. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the God of the Universe, sweet Spirit, in all and through. But the longer I keep my God alive within, the more sure I am that no desire on my part will bring the fire. I don’t have the timetable.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray, even fervently, but the prayer has to be without that one eye open – the eye that is looking for results. The more we look for the fire, the less likely we will see anything. Besides, it’s more likely that the miracle, the answer, the fire of God, will come in an unlikely form. In the same way that the Israelites looked for a warrior Messiah and a conqueror; instead, they got a mild-mannered carpenter who carried no obvious weapon, hired no bodyguards, and enlisted no troops. And yet, that Jesus and that ragtag dozen turned the world upside down.

Paul writes, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” [Philippians 4:12, NIV] And yet, he was also a mighty prayer warrior. He believed he was living out, each and every day, eachHoly spirit dove and every trial, answers to his prayers.

After all, there is still the simplicity of Psalm 118:24, “This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.” The fire is in every day, every hour, every minute. You don’t have to “see” the fire to trust. Holy Spirit, flame of love.

What’s that you say?

night messages

Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. [I Thessalonians 5:20-21, CEB]

Tonight, in a program about Artificial Intelligence at the library, one of the participants proceeded to tell the group that she was a vessel, a conduit, and a spokesperson for extraterrestrials. At least, that was the gist of it, in so many words. Everyone stared at her for about four dead seconds and then commenced to talk about something else.

I know she felt strongly about this topic but she is probably schizophrenic. And yet I do appreciate her boldness, that she spoke what she heard in her mind. I understand that we must all be mindful of our surroundings and be sensitive to others, but I find I pass up saying or following many “spirit-inspired messages.” They are so ephemeral.

It’s like a creative solution that comes alive in the middle of the night or perhaps in those first waking moments in the morning. If I don’t capture it on paper, it will be gone. When I am working intensely on a work of fiction and I am unsure where to take my characters next, the Holy Spirit often guides, my true Muse. But what about daily life? Am I as receptive to this nudging and problem-solving in my day to day? Do I reach out to that stranger? Do I speak a word of kindness to that customer? Do I spontaneously enter the moment and do something unprepared? Rare.

Perhaps I’m afraid of those same dead 4 seconds, eyes turned to me, expressions of confusion. What did she just say?

There is mystery and wonder to the world of God, the Spirit realm, and the relationship between God and humans. But I have relegated it to safety and the common place.

God speaksOnce, my pastor, Jess Bousa, preached at length about our small thinking and how we almost insult God with our tiny prayers, our limited expectations. God is a big God. God is a miracle working God who deserves big prayers, big visions, and big challenges.

Just the idea of the Noah story tells it all. Can you imagine the first time he mentioned the plan to his wife or his friends?

Certainly, I’ve never heard a inner voice urging me to build an ark. But what do I hear? And for this reason, during Lent, we are called to pray, seek, listen. The next moment of wonder could be around the corner.

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