What Must I Sacrifice?

Does the word sacrifice leave a rancid taste in your mouth? Why does that word have to be a negative connotation? What if the purpose of sacrifice was releasing something (maybe even something good) to receive what’s best?

Last month, I wanted what I wanted. What I wanted is mine to know. But oh, how I clung to it with selfish hands when a thought fluttered into my mind and hovered there. A lightbulb clicked.

Could I . . . would I give up this thing I wanted? Were there things I refused to sacrifice? I cringed to think I might have other gods before GOD!

The Lord knows I love him, I reasoned, without sacrificing something to prove I love Him. Lord, is there no other way?

“No other way.” Weren’t those the words Jesus spoke before he went to the cross?

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Sweating drops of blood, Jesus knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane and begged God to remove “this cup” from him. Jesus wasn’t refusing to give up some pleasure, or vice, or “thing” that stood between him and God the Father. He asked if there was some other way to atone for people’s sins than death by crucifixion.

However, Jesus only wanted what the Father wanted. So he said, “Not my will, but Yours.”

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Do I want what God wants?

I remember a woman who once sat beside me, crying buckets of anguish. Her red, puffy eyelids were squeezed shut. Tension riveted her body so that even her hands were clenched in fists as though subliminally curling herself into a fetal position.

I’d tried to soothe her with words. Then I held my tongue and stroked her knuckles, threading my fingers between her fists to gently prod her hands open so she could release the stress and sorrow. As I massaged her hands, her tears subsided. She breathed deeply and relaxed.

Is that me, Lord? Holding onto regrets? Worry gripped between my fists? Clinging to what I want instead of receiving what you want for me? Even if it feels painful in the moment?

“So often man, crying out for some blessing, has yet such tight hold on some earth-treasure that he has no hand to receive Mine, as I hold it out in love.” (God Calling)

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Lord Jesus, help me open my hands, knowing your will for me is better than any “thing” I hold dear in this world.

Show me how to spread my fingers, palms up . . . the same way you stretched your arms wide when they nailed your hands to a cross . . . so I can release whatever’s inside my fists. And receive Your very best even in this moment.

Need Some Deep Cleansing?

My eyes and nostrils burn from the pungent fumes of household bleach. For today, I meant business with my upstairs shower stall—the one I never use—which got plenty of use this summer.

Long, steamy showers (and a lack of ventilation) allowed specks of black mold to creep into the crevices of grout between the shower tiles.

With gloved hands, I scrubbed the shower walls and basin with a brush. Then I held a dish towel to my face while I attacked the grout with my spray bottle of bleach.

Spray. Scrub. Rinse. Repeat.

Water flowed down the shower stall walls, becoming a mucky grey, and swirled down the drain.

Satisfied, I advanced towards the commode, brandishing my toilet brush. I showed no mercy to the porcelain. I also mopped floors. Washed laundry. Cleaned out the cat’s litter box.

My housework wasn’t finished until I’d emptied all the garbage cans and took the outdoor trash can to the curb. Then I washed my hands of last week’s rubbish. Good riddance. 

However, I believe God had something else in mind that needed cleansing. Because when I grabbed a red apple from the fruit bowl and sliced it open….

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The core was rotten.

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Disgusted, I tossed the apple in my yard (picnic for the ants) and sensed the core of my being under God’s scrutiny.

I can appear pleasing to the eye. Paste on a smile, straighten my halo. Only, there are grimy weeks when unconfessed sin festers inside me like that rotting apple.

“Forgive my trespasses” is spoken hurriedly so I can pray for my needs and intercede for others. When in fact, my real need is a contrite heart that will…

  • Pause for genuine reflection and confession.
  • Implore God to reveal sins I’m not aware of that hinder my walk; break His heart.
  • Allow Him to “wash me” clean

“Wash me” the same way a woman would wash her clothes on a scrub board or the river rocks. No quick rinse cycle. She pounds and beats the cloth to purge the dirt.

When King David sinned with Bathsheba he prayed, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

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David’s plea for God’s forgiveness included his desire for a deep-heart cleansing.

He wanted God to purge him with hyssop—an herbal plant related to the mint family which contained medicinal and cleansing agents. Hyssop was used in the ceremonial cleansing of people and houses.

Hyssop is also mentioned during Jesus’ crucifixion. A Roman soldier offered Jesus a drink of sour wine on a sponge at the end of a hyssop stalk (John 19: 28-30).

While the plant may have been chosen because the stalk was long enough to reach his mouth, surely God meant this as a picture of purification. For in the Old Testament, blood and hyssop purified a defiled person. In the New Testament, Jesus’ shed blood purifies sinners.

Even in this…filthy mess of a day when my sins disgust me…I can lift my bleach-scented hands and praise the Lord because…

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

When Rebels and Rules Clash

The Confederate flag is disappearing…

From National Park gift shops, state buildings, and license plates.

And because I descend from Southern blood, I feel the rebel rising in me. Don’t touch that flag. Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do.

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Lately, I’ve seen more confederate flags waving in California. Whether these flag owners have Southern roots or empathize—I do not know. But, 

A rebel lives within each of us. Does “forbidden fruit” ring a bell?

Raised in a military family, I grew up with rules and regulations. Then I temporarily joined the Air Force and “Yes Sir” became part of my vocabulary even when rules didn’t make sense.

No rebellion in this heart. Rules is what I do!

So imagine my frustration when I first read the Bible.

All I saw was the LAW: things I’m supposed to do; NOT do.

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The Book of Leviticus alone had so many rules, my head spun. What if I break a rule and don’t even know it?

As a youth, I didn’t have much Biblical knowledge, but I knew the Golden Rule. Jesus called it the second greatest commandment.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Talk about an impossible rule.

In longing for God’s favor, I became like the rich, young man who asked Jesus, “What must I DO to get into heaven?”

Reading the New Testament didn’t make life easier. For Jesus took the rules up a notch. Not only are we to avoid certain actions like adultery we’re not even suppose to think about it.

My formula for eternal salvation and a well-lived life disintegrated.

By God’s grace, I discovered His grace. 

He knew I couldn’t keep the rules.

Once I acknowedged what’s “impossible for man is possible with God,” I was in a position to receive His grace.

And allow God to do what I could never do: Redeem my soul.

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Since then, I still study the Bible and meditate on His precepts. Only now, I understand that I can’t even begin to live God’s way. 

Thankfully, Jesus is more than my teacher. He’s my Savior.

When the rules overwhelm me and I fail the rules, I remember God’s Spirit changes me from the inside out. He’s molding me  into His image one day at a time.

On those inevitable days:

  • When the rebel within me wants to have my own way.
  • When I start waving my flag—whatever that looks like—particularly in someone else’s face.

The Holy Spirit directs my attention, not to a Biblical rule or a civic law, but to my unchecked motives which tend to be self-seeking.

Then If I’m listening, and willing to obey, the One who redeemed my soul does more of the impossible. He suppresses my inward rebellion.

And enables me to surrender whatever stands in the way of peace.

What Are You Holding Onto, and Why?

Culinary Connoisseurs, here’s something for your Pinterest Board.

Brussel Sprouts a la Frozen. Simply scrub off the ice. Simmer them in boiling water. Lather with a stick of butter.

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Doesn’t the thought make your mouth water? Me too! Unfortunately, before I could cook them, my husband—who hates Brussel Sprouts—happened to see the expiration date on the package: Oct 14, 2009.

“No way!” I grabbed my magnifying lens and examined the package. “It expires Oct 2014, on the ninth day.

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Considering it was June 2015, and I was NOT in the mood to have my stomach pumped, I reluctantly tossed the Brussel Sprouts into the garbage. Soon I was on a mission to excavate the other expired food from the depths of my freezer.

Sadly, my freezer had become a frozen coffin for food.Still hopeful, I waved a squished object at my husband. “Is this is any good?”

“What is it?”

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“An ice cream sandwich.”

He rolled his eyes, and opted for a PBJ sandwich. “Blog about your expired food.”

I handed him two slices of bread after I double-checked them for green mold. “But what’s the message?”

“Learning to let go.”

His tone of voice implied that I might be in danger of reaching my expiration date. However, if “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”, my husband would have let me go after the first week of marriage.

Who knew he didn’t like cold hot dogs for dinner?

Only to say, Husband’s comment about letting go reminded me of a recent conversation with a friend. We’d been talking about our grown children moving on, and how this season of motherhood had changed in a bittersweet way!

We agreed. “It’s hard to let go.”

However, learning to let go encompasses more than watching someone we care about move away, or die. It’s more than leaving a familiar job, or downsizing to a retirement community.

Sometimes we refuse to let go of the very things that are holding us down.

  • Abusive marriages
  • Bad influences
  • Unhealthy personal habits
  • Grudges and unforgiveness
  • Material possessions
  • Living in the past
  • Emotional baggage like old audio tapes in our head that accuse us of being:

Ugly. Stupid. Unworthy. Friendless. (Fill in the blank).”

Letting go of expired, frozen Brussel Sprouts might be funny (unless you’re starving), but I’m curious. And convicted!

What am I holding onto, and why? 

Perhaps it’s time to seek the Lord, and ask Him!

“There’s a right time to hold on and another to let go.” (Ecclesiastes 3:6 Message)

Who Can Fill the Hole?

Hot tears rolled down my cheeks during intermission.

“Do you want to leave the play?” my nineteen-year-old son asked.

“No, I’m going to see how this ends. Surely, there’s some value.”

People may not agree with me, but there was nothing redeemable about the musical, “The Book of Mormon.” I found it crude and offensive on multiple levels.

I’m not Mormon, and I rarely attend a play that I haven’t reviewed before hand. However, my son persuaded me while we were in London.

“It won a Tony Award. It’s been running for a long time.” My son later apologized for also going into this performance blind!

Really? This represents America’s best?

However, nothing is wasted.

I tend to live in a Christian cocoon.  Rubbing elbows with our post-modern culture is always an eye-opener.

What I found offensive—swearing and overt sexual language—entertained the audience. They lapped up the Jr. High bathroom humor like it was creme.

That didn’t grieve me as much as the actors who mocked God. Religion as a whole seemed like a joke.

If this grieves my heart, how does the Lord feel?

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Earlier that day, my son and I had gone to Westminster Abbey. Tourists, from around the world, paid to see the historical and majestic building where coronations are held, and royal weddings take place.

The tombs of kings and queens, and memorial plaques honoring famous people, were interesting. But the church seemed more like a museum than a place to worship. If ever there was a place to hear the Gospel message, why not here?

Watching The Book of Mormon that evening, only solidified my heavy heart for the misguided souls around me.

How can they believe in Christ if they do not hear? How can they hear, if we don’t tell them?

Soon thereafter, I heard the Rock song, Flaw, which includes these lyrics, “I have a hole in my soul. I can’t fill it. I can’t fill it. I have a hole in my soul. Can you fill it? Can you fill it?”

I don’t know the songwriter’s intent, but those words struck a chord in me.

We’re all born with a hole in our soul. And we can’t fill it with ourselves!

Neither can anything or anyone else on earth. Although looking at the carrots we chase, you’d think otherwise.

Only the Lord, God can fill the hole in our souls, and satisfy us. His Son, Jesus, has the holes in His hands to prove how much God loves us.

But God won’t force Himself on anyone.

He does, however, warn us, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it (Isaiah 30:15)

What Did I Expect?

I expect to find sinners in jail.

As a volunteer jail chaplain, I met women inmates who were prostitutes, thieves, drug addicts and dealers. And yet, I was not repelled by their crimes, or hedonistic acts.

God gave me a heart for these women.

My fearful personality morphed into boldness when I sat among women inmates behind bolted, metal doors. For I loved telling them about God’s redeeming love. I also loved watching God work in their lives.

WHY do I react differently when overt sinners, Outside of Jail, cross my path?

Recently, I left my Christian bubble and ventured beyond the comfort zone of my small hometown.

20141016_112316I wasn’t in jail. I was in a high-class hotel in the heart of Chicago’s business district.

I wasn’t with criminals. I was surrounded by well-educated men and women, wearing power suits and Rolex watches, who climb the ladder of success regardless of the collateral damage they cause on the way up.

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I knew “I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.” Nonetheless, my skin crawled when someone blatantly sinned, and then I overheard the crude comments and laughter of people who observed it.

The Pharisee rose within me. I wanted to cast stones, and avoid these sinners who felt no shame.  Then again, what did I expect…surrounded by lost souls?

Earlier that day, I asked the Lord to give me His eyes and ears as I walked the streets of Chicago. Throughout the day, random strangers returned my smiles, exchanged friendly conversation, and showed me acts of kindness I did not expect in a bustling city where skyscrapers like Trump Plaza block heaven’s view.

So my joy took a nosedive that evening when the eyes and ears God gave me, allowed me to witness a….

  • World where sin reigns in the hearts of people who reject Him.
  • World which prefers darkness instead of the Light.
  • World that God so loved that He sent His only begotten Son, ….to seek and save the lost…that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).

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Yes, leaving my Christian bubble to visit Chicago opened my eyes. However, years in jail ministry showed me three things that remain true:

  • NO ONE is beyond God’s grace. Not a criminal, not a millionaire in a power suit,..not even me.
  • RELATIONSHIP with unsaved people does more than Bible thumping to open hearts to hear the Gospel.
  • THE HOLY SPIRIT does the work of salvation. 

I can plant seeds of faith and water them faithfully as opportunity allows. I cannot control who is saved, or when and how it happens.

I can only control how I respond to each person, saved or not, that crosses my path.

Will I love them like Jesus, friend of sinners?

Will I point them to Jesus instead of pointing fingers at them?

“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans  5:8)

Ever Feel Lukewarm?

Empty nest and letting go was the subject of my previous post. Granted my home is quieter, but the house doesn’t feel as empty as my soul.

It’s like God moved away and didn’t leave a forwarding address. And I can’t muster the energy to seek Him.

empty white room backgroundnovember 2011 recruiterpoet blog xeh5ufu5 November 2011 Recruiterpoet BlogTell me you’ve been there too because admitting I’m spiritually lukewarm and lethargic isn’t a piece of cake.

After all, I write about seeing the Lord in my everyday circumstances, and wanting more of Him. So how can I write when I’m unable to experience the reality of His presence?

More important, how can I live well and be in God’s will without seeking His presence?

I know that nothing can separate me from the love of God.

I’m not depressed. I’m not bored. If anything, I’ve allowed busyness and frivolity to fill the void of God’s absence.

And yet, what did I expect would happen? Who moved away from whom?

Earlier this year, I had a forever friend who gave me the silent treatment. She didn’t return my phone texts. She was unavailable to meet with me. I finally confronted her, “What have I done to make you pull away?”

Her response, “I’m hurt. I don’t want to be somebody you meet on occasion before you’re off to the next person or thing. When did I become an obligation instead of someone you want to be with?”

Her words struck a chord. For I was guilty of indifference; taking our friendship for granted.

Perhaps I’m guilty again.

  •        Have I taken my relationship with the Lord for granted? Or do I remember I’m not my own. I was bought with a price, Christ’s precious blood.  (1 Corinthians 6:20).
  • Is my worship of God, Almighty a morning discipline or my heart’s desire?
  • Have I’ve neglected to meet with the Lord because I’m pursuing other things: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life? (1 John 2:16)

I only know I can’t go for very long before I miss the Lord.

He alone can restore to me the joy of His salvation (Psalm 51:12).

For in His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).

I know because I have been there. I’ve tasted and seen the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8)

And I’m selfish enough to want to go there again.