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.

What’s your Excuse?

Easter Sunday, my friend leans over the church pew and says,  “I notice you’re alone. Do you have plans today?”

I shake my head.

“Then come to our home for ham dinner.” Her smile is warm like fresh-baked Hot Cross Buns.

“Thank you for the invite. Very thoughtful of you, but….”

“Come. You don’t need to bring a thing.”

“I’ll think about it.”

But a dozen excuses prevents me from accepting her kind invitation.

No doubt….my loss.

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What excuses did people make when Jesus invited them to,“Follow me.”

  • “Permit me to say goodbye to those at home.” Luke 9:61
  • “He became very sad; for he was extremely rich.” Luke 18:23
  • “This is a diffcult statement; who can listen to it.” John 6:60
  • “They loved the approval of men….” John 12:43
  • “He has a demon and is insane. Why do you listen to him?” John 10:20

Pride, unbelief, lovers of money, other people’s opinion, personal safety.

Are the excuses any different today?

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What about when bad things happen to good people?

Is that a valid excuse to not follow Jesus?

Remember Job? God described Job as a “blameless, upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” And yet, Job suffered the loss of his children, property, health. What made it worse…

God Allowed it

Even so, Job didn’t use his miserable circumstances as an excuse to take his wife’s advice, “Curse God, and die.”

Instead he said, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?

Then he later added, “I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.” Job 19:25

I know my Redeemer lives.”

Do you know Job’s Redeemer? Do you know this Man, Jesus who was …

  • Delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.
  • Nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put to death.”

Do you know that…

  • God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death.
  • Since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. (Acts 2:23, 24)

Jesus, our Redeemer lives. He’s seated in heaven at the right hand of God.

Some people will hear the Resurrection message on Easter and respond exactly like the men in Athens when they heard Paul declare that God raised Jesus from the dead.  (Acts 17:30-32)

They will sneer!

They will find an excuse to turn down the invitation to believe in the name of Jesus, and follow Him.

But Praise God’s Holy name, there will be others who will hear the same message and say….

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We shall hear you again concerning this.” 

Which person are you?

When Death Interrupts Life

My uncle died Friday night.

Lying in hospital, his one strong hand clung to the woman he loved. His pale cheeks wet from my aunt’s  teary butterfly kisses.

My uncle had suffered a Stroke weeks earlier, but on Friday—the first day of spring—I didn’t know his frail body was shutting down….

While I played Florence Nightingale to my outdoor plants—amputating dead limbs, nurturing them with life-giving water.

Springtime—the smell of fresh-cut grass, a sky the color of robin eggs, yellow buds unfurling in the afternoon sun.  My Friday was pregnant with new life around me and joyful possibilities.

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 What a stark contrast to my uncle and aunt’s reality. Death’s chill shadow loomed over them as the life they knew and shared concluded.

And yet, even in this…gut-wrenching pain of letting go….Hope was present.

Hope is the balm that soothes the burning sting of death.

 “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. BUT Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Death can’t be sugar coated. “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.” (Lyric from Empty Chairs at Empty Tables)

However, my uncle and aunt believed “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day….”

And their FAITH is what the Bible describes as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

This world isn’t the end all. There may be mysteries we can’t explain. But God has given us His Word, and His Promise, that death will be swallowed up in victory.

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The Columbine seeds I scattered in my garden last year now rise from the earth, but in a new form. The clover-like foliage and lavender bell-shaped flowers are more beautiful and fragrant than its seed.

So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

Because Christ lives, we live too!

That is the sweet reality for those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have LIFE in His name.” (John 20:31)

*Other scripture  cited is from 1 Corinthians 15

Photos by Jennifer Foster

What is Fear, but a lack of trust?

It was dusk when I walked the narrow path made of white butcher paper, marked with a male’s naked, red footprints.

High school students had transformed the school gymnasium to recreate a Journey to the Cross. It was an outreach to turn people’s hearts toward Jesus.

By God’s grace and the Holy Spirit, these hearts would be convicted and healed.

Instead of praying: Fix my problems. Show me the way.  

I asked God, Show me my SIN.

Show me what action or attitude within me, is offensive, or contrary to Your will.   

The very sin Christ bore as He died on the cross to set me free.

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As I entered the gymnasium, somber music played from The Passion soundtrack. Black and burgundy cloth, hung from wires, subdivided the gym to create smaller rooms depicting Jesus’ betrayal, trial, scourging, death, and resurrection.

In one area, there was a sign: Take a black scrap of cloth and a piece of chalk. Write a sin, something you wrestle with….then nail it to the cross.

Of my many vices, FEAR surfaced. For what is fear, but a lack of trusting God?  

We can’t trust someone we don’t know.”

That’s what my friend, Loretta, told me years ago.

Since then, I’ve gone from head knowledge, knowing about God, to KNOWING HIM in a more intimate way that satisfies my heart.

And yet, FEAR remains my Achilles heel.

So I scribbled: FEAR; lack of trusting God.

Prior to writing those words, I had glanced inside a small nearby area designated “Prayer Room.” Since it was evening, the room was devoid of people, but I hesitated to enter. After God revealed my sin, this weakness that cripples my faith, I stepped inside.

Pillows and blankets lined the floor, tea lights in mason jars flickered, and white icicle lights hung overhead. I sat down to pray, but my jaw dropped. For next to my ankle was an index card with the word TRUST.

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I picked up the card, turned it over. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:4, 5

A few other cards were scattered on the floor. Different words, different verses. But TRUST was the word next to me, the first card that caught my attention.

Coincidence? That a student felt led to write TRUST, two days earlier?

Coincidence? That beckoned me into that prayer room, caused me to sit down in that exact spot?

Tears of joy, not condemnation, filled my eyes. How can I not love my Lord who reveals my sin, but then gently reminds me to TRUST.

  • Trust…the Lord with my life, and circumstances beyond my control.
  • Trust…the Lord loves me and died for me too.
  • Trust…the Lord that I’m forgiven and a new creature in Christ Jesus.

I nailed that scrap of black cloth to a large wooden cross. A cross blackened with the sins of teachers, students, and parents who had gone on this Journey before me.

And like the others, I wrote on a wall near the empty tomb,

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One of the many benefits that come when we’re Born Again, and our sins are forgiven: Peace, joy, gratitude, hope, love, victory, freedom, a new identity…..

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Have you trusted in Christ?

If so, have you told Him how much you love Him?

Want Some Gum?

crossOn April 1st, April Fool’s Day, a fellow jail chaplain passed away. Harry was 92 years old, but he was no fool.

The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”  (Psalm 14:1)

I attended Harry’s memorial service this past weekend. I went, not to weep, but to celebrate a life that belonged to Jesus. To honor a man whose earthly fruit glorified God.

Folks called Harry the “juicy fruit man” because he always …and I mean always…carried sticks of gum. That’s how I met him one night, many moons ago, while I waited to go into jail.

Smiling, he offered me a stick of gum. The yellow wrapper said Juicy Fruit, but it was Harry’s “Gospel Gum.” Whether it was a jail guard or a stranger sitting in the lobby, Harry used gum to break the ice, to part the Red Sea.

You know, GUM stands for God, U, and Me.” Then he’d share the gospel or pray for the person, whatever the moment called for, while I watched dumbfounded that he made Christian ministry look so easy.

Before we’d enter jail, the guard would examine our Bibles to ensure we weren’t carrying illegal contraband. Harry would grin and say, I’m armed with the Word of God, which is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Many evenings, the spiritual warfare we faced in jail was darker than the night time sky. I’d arrive fearful as though I were going into the lion’s den. Harry would pray as we walked down the long, concrete corridor. So by the time we parted, each entering a separate tank, my courage was mustered.

At Harry’s memorial service, I learned that years earlier, before he was a chaplain, prisoners escaped from jail and held him and his wife hostage in their home. They stole his car.

His response? Become a jail chaplain.

Listening to testimonies about Harry’s love affair with God and His people inspired me. But Harry’s death encouraged me to….

Cling like sticky GUM to the Easter message of hope I’d celebrated a week earlier.

Cling to Jesus, my sweet Savior, and His promise:

I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies,

and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?

(John 11:25, 26)

What Happens to Good Intentions?

248Easter weekend arrived, along with our extended family.

We gathered to celebrate the Risen Christ. Celebrate our family–four generations.

Great grandpa said grace and sliced the ham that Great Grandma baked. Aunts and uncles squeezed next to grown children around the dinner table.

Passed hot platters of meat and steaming bowls of vegetables. Piled potato salad on our plates. Poured tea. Passed the rolls.

As the one-year-old great grandchild munched on deviled eggs, the grown “kids” listened to reminisces: “Remember when?” “Back in my day….”

That weekend, old hearts reconnected, new spouses welcomed. Torches passed to the next generation. “Raise up your children in the way they should go.”

When we hugged goodbye, we left with good intentions.

“Let’s get together this summer.”

“I promise to email more often.”

“Call me!”

But I know as life returns to normal, busyness erases our good intentions.

Same thing happens after a spiritual retreat.

Fellowship with other believers. Allow God to speak through His Word. Worship Him through songs. Remember His faithfulness and love.

I can’t get enough of God. I return home with good intentions.

“I promise to pray more.”

“I’ll seek the Lord before I start each day.”

“I’m going to  ____Fill in the blank___”Read my Bible, join a Bible study, witness, Love God more….”

But as life returns to normal, busyness erases my good intentions.

Consequently, I become a slave to worry, fear, anger, malice. Find it difficult to trust God in my circumstances. Struggle to love. Wrestle with God’s will.

Need I say more?

But what a blessing to know when I fail to live up to my good intentions,

I can pray for the good things that God intends for us.

“I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 1:16-20