Archive for the ‘Different Scriptures’ Category

Leading Them To Water

Moses: Hello rock.

Rock: Hello Moses.

Moses: How are you today?

Rock: Oh, ya’ know, it pretty much rocks being me.

Moses: lol, always so witty.  Hey, do you think you could give us some water?  God said it was cool.

Rock: Well sure (transforms into giant office water tank).  Go ahead.

Moses: Wow, that’s a pretty nifty trick.

People: WHOO HOOO.  Hooray for the Lord, God of Moses! All of creation responds to His desires!

You may not recognize the above story from your time in scriptures.  That’s because it never got a chance to happen.  In Numbers 20:8, God directs Moses to relieve the thirst of the people and their animals by speaking to a rock “that it may yield its water.”  Who knows what they may have looked like?  Okay, probably not the situation above, I just had a bit of fun with it.

Instead, Moses was filled with anger and frustration at a whiny group of untrusting people.  Even after all they had been through, they were blaming God for their thirst, and asking if Moses had led them to this place to die.

I imagine a large group of kids in the back of a mini-van.  This trip has been much longer than they thought.  They’ve asked “Are we there yet?” about a hundred times, and now have escalated to the drama of “I’m going to die, I’m so IMG_9800thirsty!!”  Mom and dad are in the front, thirsty too, but driving through traffic jams in the middle of midwestern cornfields doesn’t offer many chances to stop.  Finally dad slams on the breaks and pulls over.  He’s had enough.  He turns around to look at his children and the main goal in that moment is to stop the whining.  He gets out of the car, and hits a rock.  The rock starts gushing water, and the need is met.

Now for a “bigger lens”…

As parents, we want to meet the needs of our children.  Just like Moses, we feel the burden of providing for our family.  There are ways to do it, that honor God and help turn the hearts of our children toward responding to their ultimate provider in worship.  There are other ways to do it, that simply (or luxuriously) put food on the table, but end in a result of our children being amazed at our abilities and filling their thirsts.

It’s difficult…sooo very difficult to spend time talking to rocks.  But in the end we recognize our children have a thirst that goes deeper than any material item in this world can quench.  More important than causing the water to flow, and meeting their every immediate need – is providing them a path on which they see and experience the love and provision of God, and are shaped to depend on Him.

The question then becomes – Where is the rock God is calling you, as a parent, to talk to?

 

Oh, be quiet Larry…

I remember back in late high school or early college:  There was this short Christian classic on sale or clearance or something and I wanted to get it.  A small part actually wanting to be the kind of person to read such books, and a larger part wanting to seem to be the kind of person to read such books, I snagged it.  I read through it a bit.  I smiled.  I even understood a few sentences.

In college, it was mentioned here and there.  I knew the topic vaguely, and smiled and nodded whenever someone mentioned it in conversation.  Yes, that is quite a good book.  Yes, I do so enjoy practicing the presence of God, just like Brother Lawrence did in “Practicing the Presence of God”.  Whether doing the dishes (as he did) or other menial tasks that my day to day existence brings me, I love the fact that Christ always offers to be very near.  God truly is with us, closer than we often realize.

I was a bit surprised then, when reading the book more closely for my current course on Spiritual Formation, to find so larrymuch in the book I didn’t like.  When the author writes Brother Lawrence (let’s call him Larry) to tell him of a friend who loses a close friend to death, Larry tells him to advise his friend to use these moments to his advantage.  “What a great opportunity to give the part of your heart previously given to your friend back to God where it belongs!”, he seems to say.  Or when the author himself is aging and enduring intense suffering of some sort, Larry refuses to pray his suffering would be taken away.  Instead, Larry insists on praying that God would strengthen the author to endure the suffering that is most likely God’s way of refining his heart and soul.  No, I do not like this guy much at all.  I don’t think I would have written him as much as the author seemed to.  A man who neurotically spent at least 10 years of his life anxious that he shouldn’t be distracted in thought or feeling by anything that might take God’s place, finally ending up with peace (albeit alone, and without much pleasure it would seem beyond the “presence of God”).  No, I do not like this guy much at all.

Yet…I can appreciate his heart.  A heart that yearns for the presence of God so much that everything else – even the extremely important things in life – melt away.  An experience of God’s presence, even in suffering alone, that gives him a sense of complete and udder wholeness that so many empty people in our world are hungry for.

I’ll admit, wrestling with his message comes at a poignant time.  Last week was the final week of Lent.  The season of preparing for Easter.  It was also a week of waiting for an important update in terms of our adoption.  This journey that has taken over 3 years, it finally feels like our boat has spotted land.  So it takes a bit of humility to confess that I, a pastor who was allowed to even baptize several people this morning, was distracted most of my week by checking my e-mail for an update that never came.  That dotting my week of anticipating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I was experiencing the brokenness of a human whose heart is not at complete peace in this broken world.

Part of me realizes that’s probably okay.   Jesus was certainly not often “at peace” in this world.  Another part of me realizes, there’s something to all this stuff Larry was talking about.

But before you or I go out and leave our family, secluding ourselves in monasteries away from our spouses and children, aiming to live like Larry and push away anything that threatens to occupy a place in our hearts – I don’t think that is required.   But we can be reminded in powerful ways, the truths found in Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 15.  That Jesus died and was resurrected.  The truth of this powerful statement impacts us as individuals, and puts every anxious thought, every deep-seated need/emotion, and every well-intentioned prayer in a wonderfully redemptive context.

The Truth of a resurrected Jesus Christ releases us from serving the state of our situations.  Even though there are times (like this past week, and probably again in the future) we don’t want to hear it, the words of Brother Lawrence come as important reminders: Even really important and good things are not “foundational” the way Christ and His resurrection are.  We can have Peace, even in the midst of needing peace.  That is something the world considers foolish.   That is something scripture considers faith.

That is something my daughters need from their father.  Something my wife needs from her husband.  And so, not as an individual but as a family – we work to shape our heart to seek pleasure only in the things that please God.  We seek to walk with Him as the center of our being.  We confess that this is not an easy road, and we sometimes lose focus.  But we return to this walk and practice – together.

(and really really pray that our boat would draw a big step closer to “land” this week) 🙂

Suffering Joy

This morning, it doesn’t take long for the difficult words from this past Sunday to come whispering back into my mind… “Rejoice always.  Pray continually.  Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18a)

The world is broken, and mourning the loss of so many young lives.  Attackers stormed a school, with automatic weapons and the indifference of knowing they too were going to die, and killed over 126 people – mostly young children.  Largely between the ages of 12 and 16, the victims were just beginning to have grand thoughts about what to do with their lives.  Daydreaming, passing notes, and looking forward to the weekend….many of their lives ended without being able to express what was really on their hearts and minds.

My prayers are with them this morning.  The community that weeps.  The parents whose homes have been torn apart. The friends who’ve lost their classmates.  The young loves who’ve lost the one they were inspired by.  The students who’ve lost a teacher.  May God bring comfort, even to those who may not be able to give name to the source.

Certainly God didn’t have any of these scenes in mind when He gave us the words of Paul to the church in Thessalonica.  Surely if God would have known we’d have things like this happening, he would have given a different command.  Something closer to, “Rejoice when you can.  Pray if you can spare the time.  Give thanks before you lose it.”  But we know better than that.  Even as Paul gave those words, God’s people had known immense suffering.  God looked across the suffering that would come to His people, and painted a picture of who we are to be…even in the midst of the brokenness of our world.

Not those who avoid it.  Not those who seek it.  But those who seek God’s presence in the midst of whatever may come.  Those who are able to suffer with those who suffer, have “compassion”, and simultaneously be comforted by a God who has promised He is with us.  Those who are able to celebrate blessings in life with the humility that sees the reality much larger than the moment.  Those who recognize that the only way we become people with hearts grounded in God’s reality is to be those who “pray continually”.  Not starry-eyed false hope that someday this suffering will all make sense.  But a solid foundation of hope that today, right now, even in the midst of brokenness and ugly humanity – there is the presence of a God who says through His tears….”I love you.  I am with you.  Listen to my voice, and receive life that transforms.”

We cannot throw extra God-presence in a box, wrap it, and ship it to those suffering from this tragedy.  But we can allow these moments to call forth transformation in our own lives.  Give yourself time to pray today.  Rejoice, as one Beloved by the Son.  Spend time both speaking AND listening to the voice of our Father who loves you.  Give thanks for the movement of the Spirit that brings New Life.

Allow yourself to feel the story, even in the midst of a day/news-hour that moves right on to the next thing.  Allow the pain in your heart to enable you to cry out to God with them….”Lord, come.  Lord….come.”  And know that He has.  Know that He is.   Know that He will…

Luv is a Verb (part 2)

So what does THAT look like? It seems to look, like Love. Not love like feelings and mushy stuff and roses. But love like laying down a life for ones’ friends. Love like sacrificing our own desires, and letting go of self preservation for the sake of living naturally as one through whom God loves. It’s not an effort-based thing either, not something they’ve been trying really really hard at, in an attempt to look like the loving Christian they know they’re supposed to be. Like the toddler earlier, it’s not an obsessive compulsion to make sure Loving acts are happening regularly. It’s a natural, and often “giddy” outflow of what exists in the heart sourced in Christ.

King Jesus tells them “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

I always forget this next verse comes from BOTH those who followed Jesus, and those who did not. They’re taken back, surprised, and ask the King, “Lord, when was this?” They had NO IDEA they were serving and showing love to Jesus. They were simply living out of the New Creation they had been transformed to be. They were living naturally out of the heart of God. It might be tempting in our walk with Jesus to think, “I know God wants me to love each person as if I were loving Jesus himself. So I’m just going to pretend each person I bump into is Jesus.”

But if I look into the face of every person I meet, and only see Jesus, I’m missing out on the beauty and uniqueness of all the individual lives and ways God has shown his creativity. God doesn’t look down on us, and forget our names, faces, and stories, seeing only Jesus. But because of what Jesus has done, God is able to look fully at each of us as individuals. Your name, your story, and all the unique ways He has created you to reflect bits and pieces of God into the world. THAT is how we love, because that is how we have BEEN loved! Once again, the child of God can only do that which they see the Father doing.

So we see the people of God, not aiming for larger mansions in heaven. Not loving the least of these because they know it’s part of their Christian duty. Not even because they see Jesus in every face around them. But because their very nature has been changed. Their reflex is no longer “Self”. Their reflex has become “Love”, even to the very least of these. To those our world overlooks, tramples underfoot, and has forgotten about. Those our world is afraid of touching, or even just, afraid of. To the very last in line, the follower of Jesus is broken as God’s heart is broken toward them. Desiring justice. Desiring to care for them. The orphan, the widow, the poor, the hungry, the powerless, the voiceless, the sick, those with nothing to offer us in return. The people of God naturally reach out in love, with the heart of God. And in each of these cases, it makes us vulnerable. It costs something. It may lead us the way of the cross.

In his book, Bob Goff writes, “That’s because love is never stationary. In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about it or keep planning for it. Simply put: love does.”

Or as DC Talk put it back in the 90’s, “Luv is a verb”

This is not a foreign concept to us, as Free Methodists either. John Wesley wrote, “This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, Love. The first branch of it is the love of God: And as he that loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Thou shalt love every man as thy own soul, as Christ loved us.”

It seems so simple. It seems a little mushy even. And yet we can’t get away from the fact that it seems to be completely tied to those who anticipate the coming justice and reign of Jesus as Lord fully over all things. It makes these “acts of love” even more vital, and even more connected to what is coming as the Son of Man returns to sit on His Throne. Because we are not just loving to make someone feel good. We are loving as a powerfully subversive statement that says, even in the midst of laws and cultures that say otherwise – LOVE like God’s is the way of my Citizenship. It is the way of my King.

So what is our challenge this morning, in the midst of these Truths? How do we ensure that we don’t end up like the second group? This group may have had a large and honest love for Jesus, because they genuinely wanted to be saved from sin, and wanted to enjoy heaven for eternity. They say to Him, “Wait….when did we even see you, and have a chance to offer you food, drink, clothes, or invite you in?” To them Jesus gives the same response, “..just as you did or didn’t do for the least of these, who are members of my family, so you did for me.”

How do we begin moving in the direction of the first group, who’s knee-jerk response was to love without regard? Based on what we hear Jesus describing in his response about what the son can do, it would seem we first need to start with realizing what the Father is doing. And what the Father IS doing? is loving.

God. Loves.

God Loves you, no matter what you come from, and no matter how you’ve lived toward Him. God loves you, whether you’re important and people listen to you, or you have very little influence and a timid voice. Whether you are a decision maker, or whether life pretty much dictates what road you have to travel. God loves you.

But also, God loves them. The people on the other side of the street, that make so much noise or act so different it makes you uncomfortable. God loves them. Those imprisoned for making horrible choices, and living what seems to be comfortably in broken lives. God loves them. Those who completely disagree with you theologically, politically, and work hard to make sure your efforts fail. God loves them. You. Love. Them.

And as we’ve talked about already, Love is a verb. God loves you. God loves them. God is pouring out His Spirit to unite your heart with His, so that you can actually experience Love for your enemies. So that you can be broken with God’s heart for them. So that you can look at the least of these, and not see Jesus, but actually see someone who is called “BELOVED” by God. So that you can look in the mirror, and not see your accomplishments or your failures, but actually see someone who is called “BELOVED” by God.

What if this week, as people are making giant lists of things they’re thankful for. For homes, for food, for clothes, for comforts, or many other blessings. What if you became united in solidarity with those who have very little thanks to offer, beyond the love of God? I’m not saying cancel your family dinner, and tell all the relatives you’re going down to work in the soup kitchen instead….although you’re certainly welcome to do so. What I’m saying is, to be aware of how beloved you are. To exist, as my Pastor has said before, with the “radical preoccupation with the preciousness of others.”

To ask God even now, that He would give you His heart. That he would transform your mind. That his ways of love in our world would be revealed to you, so that you can do exactly what you see Him doing. So that you can love in such a response to the love of God that you forget you even heard this story about it being Jesus you’re loving.

That will naturally look different in each of our lives. Each of us has a unique place in our communities and families. Each of us has unique things we can offer in love to others. But each of us has….LOVE. Love that responds to hunger with food. Love that responds to thirst with drink. Love that responds to those left out by inviting them in. Love that clothes the naked, cares for the sick, and visits those imprisoned.

Not because doing these things earns us the right to be called “Sheep”. But because we have been made into New Creations. We have been born again as Children of God, and have received New Life in Christ. We are made free from sin – for a reason. The justice of God is coming one day fully in Jesus Christ. We look forward to that day. And we proclaim that day, by living under His Lordship even now. By acting according to the ways of His Kingdom. Citizens not of the law, but of Love in which the law finds it’s perfect fulfillment.

It’s why we serve, and work toward the justice of God, even though we know it will fall short until Jesus returns. Because as we read in 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

The altar is open this morning, as we close with a final hymn, “Come, All Christians Be Committed”. A hymn of invitation that speaks about offering our lives to the Lord, and offering our love to each other.

Maybe you’ve already made the commitment to accept Jesus as your savior. But maybe today, you’ve heard God calling you to make a commitment to Love as God loves. To become saved not simply for yourself, but for the sake of being enabled to show love to others. Whatever the case, or if you simply want to thank God for His love….I invite you to respond to God for a moment before you click out of here and go about your day…

Luv is a Verb (part 1)

Matthew 25:31-46 – (passage where King Jesus takes the throne, divides the nations as sheep & goats, and they both ask “When did we see you, to be able to help you?” Jesus tells them, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you’ve done to me.”)

Our world is in need of the justice of God. It’s discouraging to look out over the evils that are taking place on a daily basis. Children who are abused and trampled on. Our brothers and sisters who exist without any voice about the condition of their environment or life trajectories. Women, girls, and boys who are raped or sold as slaves, objects for men to consume.

Increasingly, there IS a global desire for justice. On October 24, 1945, the United Nations was formed. The “UN” has efforts in many parts of the world, and it’s reach continues to increase. Unfortunately, “justice” is not quite the appropriate word for what often happens. In one moment most recently celebrated, the DRC finally saw the trial and conviction of a man who had served as a General in the Congolese armed forces. He was accused of arbitrary execution, rape, arbitrary arrest, torture, illegal detention, and the use of child soldiers. He is also being held accountable for at least 2 separate massacres back in 2003 where hundreds were killed. So what was the justice recently celebrated by the UN? This General was given a 10 year prison sentence. No comments were made about rehabilitation or transforming the man’s life, or restoring honor to those communities that were injured.

Even here in Decatur, IL, “justice” is a flawed concept and people are being shuffled around like objects. Sitting in county jail cells for months and even years, eventually they are spit out to a long-term facility, often with little or no attention to having a life transformed, or healing the relationship between the offender and the society that was offended. In the case of the hungry, even this weekend, food will be given to over 4,000 families! This is a huge effort, and a beautiful thing. But looking at it honestly, we know that some will take advantage of it. All of our human efforts at Justice will ultimately fall short, until the day described in our passage this morning. Still, these things are important. Still, we make efforts out of love.

But we need so much more than we can accomplish on our own. Enter: Jesus, and His Kingdom. This is much bigger, Jesus says, than something happening in your heart. This is so much more important than you getting into Heaven. This is the kind of thing meant to transform all of creation. As Howard Snyder has written in one of the books that should be on your reading list for 2015 (after the Bible, of course): “Salvation Means Creation Healed”.

If we began reading this passage with verse 32, we might start to think this is another parable about the Kingdom of Heaven. After all, Jesus has been talking about this for a while now, with stories about the Bridesmaids, and the Talents. He’s reminded his disciples to always be ready, and to use what they’ve been given faithfully in service to their master. In our passage today, several times it simply says, “Then the King will say/answer them…” But we know this is no parable. This is a coming reality!

Verse 31 says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.” THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN!! Of course, the disciples thought this was all going to happen in their lifetime, with Jesus actually becoming the power that sets Rome in it’s place. But we don’t hear Jesus worrying too much about proving His authority over Rome here. Verse 32 proclaims that “ALL the nations will be gathered before him..”

There is no power, or group, or voice, or influence that falls outside of the Lordship of Christ, that has already begun and will be revealed fully one day. That should fill us with immense confidence and enthusiasm for what God has in store! But what that confidence looks like, comes as a surprise to the followers of Jesus, and might surprise us if we’re honest as well. Because it’s not about changing legislation to make more room for religion.

Before we go further, it’s important here to remember that we are not saved by what we DO. Ephesians 2:8 reminds us, “For it is by GRACE you have been saved, not by works…it is a gift from God so that no man can boast.”

And yet we also know that if anyone is in Christ, they are a NEW CREATION. Old things have passed away, and all things have become new. God does a work in our hearts, and we’re offered salvation from sin – both it’s future impact, and it’s present burdens.

How do you know if a toddler has learned how to walk? You see them giggling with excitement, walking, running, and stumbling all over the place! It’s not an obsessive compulsion to practice walking so that they can increase in their ability. It’s a natural desire to exist in a path of freedom they’ve never before experienced!

So in this passage, we seem to be reminded that a life lived with Christ must transform not only our hearts, but our lives as well. It includes a scripture that we don’t like to talk much about these days, and yet there it is. The Son of Man, who is seated finally on the Throne of Glory over all nations, gathers the people before Him and separates them. Now remember, these are not ACTUAL sheep and goats. It’s simply giving us an example of HOW they are being separated. That is to say, easily. Even though they may run in the same herd, a shepherd (or even most of us) would have no trouble identifying a goat in the midst of sheep. Jesus can easily tell if someone has allowed His Love to offer them salvation from a life lived in sin. There’s no complex supernatural equation, or comparing a list of good deeds or bad deeds. We learn a bit more about this in a few verses.

But first we have verse 34, where we have a long awaited arrival of complete Justice. The kind of Justice David wrote about in Psalm 69 when he sang, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary in my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”

To David, and to all with him, King Jesus says “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, receive your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world..”

So we have a group of people, set apart easily by God because of the natural and observable difference in their lives. They receive this inheritance, which is important to recognize here. This is not a wage they earned, or a reward they deserve. This is an inheritance, provided simply because they are children of God. And how does God know they are his children?

If only we had an example of what it looked like when a child…say, a son…..of God came and lived among us. If only we could see what it would look like.

John 5:19 tells us, “..the Son can do nothing by himself, he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

So we have our example, and so it seems to be what has happened. These who are receiving their inheritance seem to have been transformed into New Creations in Christ, having not only received salvation from Sin, but actually “made new” so that their very source of life, and outpouring of their life, is completely different than before.

So what does THAT look like?  Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post….

Intent vs. Content

My 5 year old daughter Ruby is picking up on a lot of things.  Recently we were driving home from a friends’ house, when from the back seat we heard her proclaim, “Dad!  I know when God’s going to make New Creation!”  I smiled, simply for the fact that my 5 year old knows there’s something to look forward to besides Heaven.  But then I was curious, after all – God seems to favor using children to proclaim important/new things.  So I asked her, “When?”

“At the end of this age!”

Wow.  In a few moments, my daughter was speaking of things I hadn’t really grasped until reading NT Wright talk about the concept of ” αἰώνιος Eyes wide, I turned to my wife who was almost as surprised as I was.  Her face quickly changed, however, and she simply said, “What did you expect?  She hears you talking about it all the time.” with a loving smile on her face.

Whaddya’ know?  Parenting works.

There followed a short conversation, where I excitedly tried to explain to our daughters how Ruby was right, although New Creation had already started too!  To which Ruby responded with something between anxiety and confusion, “But daddy, I thought the dead people would come alive?”  Calmly I tried to explain as best as I could that scripture tells us that anyone who has accepted Jesus as their source of life, is already a part of the New Creation yet to come.  It’s hard for me to grasp, so I can only imagine how many more conversations we’ll have as she grows.

Nevertheless, it was a great reminder that we easily learn all the right words to say.  Whether it’s a 5 year old talking about New Creation, or a 40 year old praying at the altar on Sunday morning, we learn the vocabulary and use it.  Influenced and flavored by prayers we’ve grown up with, worship songs we’ve sung, and the theology we prefer, we bring our prayers to God – often already knowing what the exchange will look like.  Already aware of the CONTENT we will present to God, and the CONTENT He will give in return.

BDataNeverSleeps_2.0_v2ecause whether we’ve developed self-control over how we interact with it or not, we all exist in a world where CONTENT floods our lives.  In the form of Tweets, Instagrams, Headlines, Blogposts, Facebook Posts, and more, we have become a never-ending culture of creating/consuming CONTENT.  It hits us head-on when we wake up, and the waves continue lapping the shores of our devices well into the hours we should be sleeping.  That influences our children and their development, but also impacts our lives, how we relate to each other, our family friends, and even God.

But we’re reminded by the story in Matthew 22:15-22 that Jesus sees beyond our words and actions.  We may fool other people.  We may even fool ourselves.  But Jesus knows our hearts.  The Pharisees came trying to trap Him with their fancy words, and question aimed at accomplishing what they wanted.  Jesus calmly responds with a question, and directs them to yield themselves to God fully.  Just as the coin stamped with the image of Caesar belongs to Caesar, so a man/woman who has been created in the image of God belongs to God.

We are both challenged by this, and encouraged.  We are challenged as we realize God is not impressed or distracted by the “#self” we present to the world.  We cannot show Him our polished areas, and hold back the things we’d rather not yield.  God calls us to give ourselves completely, proclaiming by such submission – Jesus is Lord even now!!  (and we are His New Creation!)  And therein lies the encouragement.  Submission to God opens up an existence as His New Creation, and serving a Lord who knows us intimately.  Todays’ “Insta-Tweet-Booked” existence can be lonely and consuming.  Smashing through such an existence is a God who knows us well beyond the images and 140 characters we share with others – and proclaims His overwhelming Love for us…

..and sends us out to do the same for a world that so deeply needs to be known…and Loved. 🙂

Child Sacrifice

“Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” – Genesis 22:2

This was in our family reading yesterday.  As I was reading it out loud for my kids to hear, I wondered what sort of thoughts might go through their mind.  A daddy was asked by God to sacrifice his son?  And he DID it?  Well, not completely, but still.  He tied up his son, whom he loved, and offered him to God as a sacrifice?

I quickly connected it to something easier to swallow.  I asked the kids, “What is something you love a whole lot, that God might ask you to let go of in order to follow Him?”  I wondered what might be going through their minds, as they tried to imagine God asking something large in their life to be sacrificed in order to be a part of what God wanted to accomplish.

I remember reading this passage in college.  Studying it with my theology friends.  Talking about Kierkegaard’s thoughts over coffee, and feeling like we grasped just how audacious these passages of scripture were.  Then life took me out of the coffee shop and into the mini-van.  It’s so hard to understand Abraham’s response in this passage.  It’d be easier if we had a chapter, or at least several verses after verse 2 here.  A conversation, or at least open complaint to God from Abraham, of how unjust and difficult it was for him to swallow what God was asking him to do.  Instead, the very next verse is about Abraham getting up , saddling his donkey, and telling his son “Let’s go”.kids on the bus

As I was reading the story this week, a thought struck me.  Even though I’m not tying my kids up, laying them on an altar, and raising a knife above them….I am still offering my children to God as a sacrifice.  As is any family that takes steps in faith toward a path God is calling them to.  We spend time in prayer, as parents.  We ask God to be with us. We ask God to bless us. We ask God to bless our family, and our home.  We ask for Him to bless our children as they grow.  But even more than “blessing”, we ask God to use our family for the purposes of His Kingdom.  That has nothing to do with how successful our kids might be someday, or what college/career they head toward.

Although that’s definitely a tempting approach to praying for our children.  In the popular TV show, “Once Upon a Time”, Snow White and her Beau save their infant from a cursed Kingdom by shoving the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes through a magic portal.  This assures their child will escape the current cursed situation, and have a decent chance at a normal and successful life.  Every parent faces this temptation.  To shield our children from anything God might ask from us in this broken world, and prepare them for “someday” when they’ll be launched into life, ready and strengthened by years of protected existence.

Instead, God calls us to lift our children, and our family/home up onto the stone altar.  To faithfully respond to whatever He’s calling us toward, even knowing it will impact them.  It may cause suffering.  It may mean large amounts of sacrifice.  It might mean that after years of praying for God to help us with our adoption, our 8 year old will interrupt prayer time to say, “Dad, why doesn’t God just…you know….DO something?”

In those moments, I feel a little like Abraham carrying his son up the mountain.  His son looks at everything they’re carrying, and in a confused moment he asks his father, “..but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (v.7)  Abraham responds that God will provide.  In this similar moment, my daughter needs me to speak with faith into her life as well.  It’s hard for me to do, just as I imagine it would’ve (should’ve) been for Abraham.  Yet I look into her eyes and say the words, “God will provide.”

He will.  He has.  He is.  Our family is being formed in a crucible of prayer that will and already is, influencing the direction of their lives.  These little hearts who are called on every day to think about God’s heart for a broken world that needs healing.  These young people who are reminded that just like God wants to use our family – God wants to use them for the sake of the world, also.

But just being honest here?  I’m scanning those bushes like crazy, even as I’m tying up my children…

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