Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Perfect "Living Sacrifice"

We know that Jesus came to die for us.  That's what makes His birth so worth celebrating.

But have we forgotten that He also came to live for us, that even now He "always lives to make intercession for us" (Heb 7:25)?

Many a husband boasts that he would die for his wife, but would not dream of putting her before himself in day-to-day life, of living sacrificially for her.

Jesus is not that kind of husband.  And His church is the most blessed bride imaginable.

You know that righteousness which He imputes to us (i.e. credits to our account)?  It's not just the righteousness that He had from eternity past.  It's the righteousness He lived out for us as the God-Man, representing us, as one of us, so that He in His righteousness could stand in our place before the throne of God.

The perfect man.  Living perfectly when it hurt, simply because it pleased the Father He loved, and because He wanted to qualify us to enjoy the Father, too.  He could have continued living flawlessly in Heaven, you know.  But He chose to do it here, in human after difficult day; in poverty, in disgrace under a cloud of presumed illegitimacy, in ordinary obscurity, by the sweat of his brow, for the sake of people who appreciated none of it.  At least, not nearly as much as they should have, if at all.

He lived perfectly, not just in the big dramatic moments that we read about in Scripture, but in the countless inconsequential moments that never made it on record.  Thirty-some years of ordinary experiences...and not one moment lived selfishly.  He received every second from His Father's hand, and deliberately laid each one on the altar of His Father's will (John 8:28) for our sake (John 17:19).

Before He was our dying sacrifice, He was our living sacrifice.  Truly, what He asks of us (Rom 12:1-2) is nothing that He hasn't done for us first.

When God commanded sacrifices, He never asked anybody what they thought they should give.  He laid all His requirements out in excruciating detail. And once a sacrifice was given, it was completely out of the giver's hands.  It belonged to God, and God decided what to do with it.

He accepted some and rejected others (Gen 4:5, Prov 15:8, Hos 8:13, Heb 11:4).  Some He commanded to be used to feed the priests and their families.  Some He commanded would supply food for a joyous celebration for the sacrifice-bringer and his loved ones.

Some He commanded would be burned to ashes, leaving nothing at all for the bringer to enjoy.

Most sacrifices passed without any visible indication of God's involvement in the process.  But some rocked the giver's world with supernatural approval or wrath (1 Kings 18: 37-39, Lev 10:1-2).

And so it is with living sacrifices...with moments given into His hands.  We have no say in what is done with them once given.  Some moments will serve to feed others.  Some will supply celebrations for us to enjoy.

Others will seem to leave nothing but ashes.

Few will rock our world with signs of supernatural response.

Jesus knew all those kinds of sacrifices.  Moments, received with thanks and offered back, which fed thousands on hillsides.  Moments that supplied wine for wedding feasts. 

Moments, or rather hours, of agony ending in the dust of death. 

And in the moment of His sacrificial death, He made no demands, but put it all in the Father's hands to do with as He pleased (Luke 23:46).

But no, His sacrifices did not end there.  His righteousness accomplished all that He came to do, so that His perfect life and perfect death could both be imputed to us (Isa 61:10, 2 Co 5:21).  And God rocked our world with His supernatural seal of approval.  We call it the resurrection, and in it we who believe are also raised to new life (Rom 6:4).

On this day when we celebrate His birth, may we remember to celebrate His life as well.  If we are His, then His life flows in our veins.  He is our life.

Blessed be His name!

Photo by clshearin 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Praying for "...But Not..."

It's been a long time since I've posted anything.  But it certainly hasn't been for lack of "interesting" events in my life!  In the past couple of months I've spent a great deal of time on bedrest, relying on the incredible generosity of my church and help from my family.  I've undergone tons of medical tests, taken lots of medications, received several new diagnoses, struggled with hopes delayed, engaged in wrestlings with God, and seen answers to prayers that I had never even been wise enough to pray.  (Must have been other believers and Jesus who made those requests on my behalf, I'm sure.)

Finally, just over a week ago (on Nov 29, 2011), I had the major surgery I needed.  Thanks be to God, I am already feeling better than I have felt for months, and am on the road to what will probably be better overall health than I've had in more than a decade!  I'm still relying on the generosity of others for help, but I'm now cleared to lift up to 8-10 lbs, so I can do many more things.

In some ways it's been tough, but I wouldn't trade this time for anything.  God has been SO present, and SO sweet!  I have learned so much about rest, about trust, about submission, about gratitude...but mostly about the precious sovereign love of God for me in Christ.  Thank Him along with me, will you?

 A little while ago I read "A Praying Life" by Paul Miller, and it changed the way I pray for myself, my family, my neighborhood, my church, missionaries, and the world.  The book helped me see how to get to the root and pray about the heart of the issues in my life and sphere.  And boy, do I always need to deal with heart issues!

You see, I've always had a powerful avoidance ethic.  "If you can't control it, avoid it" was my unspoken motto for life, unseen and unquestioned as it guided me into disaster after disaster.  My prayer life largely focused on the desire to see pain relieved or prevented, even as I busily pursued the kind of selfishness that ate me up and made me useless.

But several months ago, when I was making up my new prayer card for myself, the Spirit brought one of my Scripture memory passages to mind.  (That's a powerful argument for memorizing Scripture!)  I made that passage part of my daily prayer for myself, and because it aligns with God's wise will, He is honoring it.

May I invite you along as I pray this passage?

"Lord, please free me from the urge to try to control everything, the belief that the avoidance of pain is the greatest good.  At the heart of them, my prayers used to always be, 'Don't let me be afflicted.  Don't let me be perplexed.  Don't let me be persecuted.  Don't let me be struck down.'  But that's not my prayer any more.  Now I ask that You would free me to be what Paul described: 'afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.' 

I say, 'Free me' to be these things, because that would be truly liberating.  I have been a slave to fear, held captive by avoidance, paralyzed by risk.  Please free me to love others in the way that You do...a way which is only possible if I'm willing to be hurt.  I can't triumph on my own, but through You I am 'more than a conqueror' (Rom. 8:37).  And what would this victory look like?  It would look like loving the Lord my God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, and loving my neighbor as myself.  It would look like the end of self-centered self-protection, and the beginning of sacrificial love.  It would look like the end of regret over opportunities lost, and the birth of praise and joy over circumstances submitted to Your glory and the good of those I touch.

And then, Oh Lord, I pray that you would help me to understand, by experience, what Paul said next. Teach me what it means to be 'always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.'  How can it be that this, 'carrying of Jesus' death,' and this, 'manifesting of His life' is something that 'we who live' are 'always doing?'  I don't know, but I pray that you would make it true in my life so that I would be able to glorify You and serve my neighbor in that way."

I felt an immense burden lifted off of me the first time I prayed that, and since then the Lord has been faithfully helping me to pry my hands off the controls, to trust Him, to risk loving and being hurt.  I've got a long way to go, of course, but I love the path I'm on now!

How would your prayer life...your whole changed if you regularly prayed for the "...but not..." of 2 Cor. 4:8-11?

Photo by abcdz2000 from Stock Xchng
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