Follow-Thru Honors the Sacrifices

Nothing can beat a week in the mountains, surrounded by people who “get” you, with your combined love for Jesus and crazy #grammarnerd brain. Yes, it was the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Around 500 writers–from newbies to seasoned, best-selling authors–spent the week worshiping, practicing, and learning from each other. Well, mostly the newbies learned from the experienced writers.  Continue reading

Spiritual Disciplines in the Car (part 1)

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, in the “too busy” attitude of many Christ-followers, it can be easy to disregard the practices of spiritual discipline. We may think they’re archaic or better suited to a mountain retreat rather than everyday living. We may think our days are too segmented or that spiritual disciplines are for those in “full-time ministry.” We may even question their benefit for spiritual growth.

But here’s the thing…

Going to the gym is not enough to get you physically fit. You have to actually use the equipment or participate in a class. Exercise isn’t just for health nuts and personal trainers; it’s for everyone. And if you want even more physical improvement, you have to make small healthy decisions throughout the day like taking the stairs or eating a salad.

Small everyday habits
foster lasting change.

In the same way, sitting in a church pew won’t make you a stronger Christian. You have to participate in the corporate disciplines (the things we do together) but also apply the private disciplines (things you do on your own).  Just like you could go to a health spa, there may be wonderful opportunities for a spiritual retreat where you get to focus on spiritual growth, but those times won’t change you—the health spa or the spiritual retreat—if you don’t practice them in your regular life. Small everyday habits, however, can foster lasting change, both physical and spiritual.

Paul told Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1Timothy 4:7b-8). Check out 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, which I wrote about last week, for more on Paul’s parallel between physical and spiritual training.

What follows are some suggested practices for spiritual discipline specially designed for our time in the car. For our purposes today and next week, I’ve taken a list of disciplines compiled by from the writings of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, both respected, evangelical theologians. Here’s the link to that list. It has explanations, in case you aren’t familiar with any of these terms.

How can you use this list?

Choose to concentrate on one discipline this week or try something different each day. Like working out weak muscles, the more difficult disciplines are probably the ones you need to practice the most! I’ve included a verse for meditation with each discipline. Feel free to add your own verses and to share more ideas in the comments at the bottom of this page.

This week, we look at the disciplines of abstinence. That means the focus is on letting go of something or avoiding something. Next week, we’ll consider the disciplines of activity.

Spiritual Disciplines of Abstinence for the Car

Solitude – Being alone in the car is a good start, but make a point of that solitude. Silence your phone and put it in the glove box or somewhere out of sight. If you need music, tune the radio to something without a lot of talking. Center your thoughts on God’s presence with you. Let him direct your thoughts…not to worry, but to worship.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. -Mark 1:35

Silence – This one usually begins with solitude, but if your children are sleeping or distracted, you might also find a few minutes of silence. Put away your phone as above but also turn off the radio. Practicing silence also means quieting your mind. We have to teach our minds to stay present and still. This is not a time to unload your concerns to the Lord but to seek contentment in His sufficiency and sovereignty.

The fruit of [God’s] righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. -Isaiah 32:17

Fasting – Delay your drive-thru destination for a couple of exits or completely skip your coffee stop. But don’t distract yourself from the hunger or the caffeine craving. Instead, use the feelings to remind your body that Christ is more important than food. Depend on God to meet your need for food or caffeine in other ways, even if it’s just for ten minutes.

Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. -Psalm 63:3

Frugality – Turn off the heating or a/c for the duration of your drive. Why? Because frugality is about learning to live with less, and temperature-manipulated air is not essential. (Maybe don’t do this on the hottest or coldest days of the year, when it could be dangerous.) Like fasting, use the discomfort to remind your mind and body of God’s place of priority in your life.

Brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. -Romans 8:12-13

Chastity (sexual purity/abstinence) – Determine a period of time in which you will not listen to music with suggestive lyrics. If there’s a provocative billboard on your route, intentionally look elsewhere when it comes into view. If a sexual TV or movie scene often pops into your head, practice taking every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and replacing that thought with praise. Pray for your spouse (or future spouse), especially for sexual purity and faithfulness. By the way, sexual purity isn’t just for the unmarried.

There are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it. -Matthew 19:12b

Secrecy is action
without accolades.

Secrecy – As your drive, ask God to show you a charity to support. Then, when you arrive at your destination, use your cellphone to make an anonymous donation to that charity. Many charities have special text messages that automatically donate a small, specified amount to their cause through your service provider. Another option: pay for the order of the person behind you in the drive-thru line. Someone did this for us once, and it was such a delightful surprise blessing!

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. -Matthew 6:3-4a

Sacrifice – Intentionally let another car cut in front of you as traffic backs up, especially the one that zoomed to the front of the line instead of merging with everyone else. Leave the closest parking space for someone else and take one further from the door for yourself even though it means more walking.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. -Philippians 2:3

Small steps in the spiritual disciplines—even in the car—lead to big spiritual growth. (click to tweet)

Come back next week for ideas on how to apply the active disciplines even while driving down the road! In the meantime…

Have any suggestions for practicing these spiritual disciplines in the car? Please share in the comments below! Did you try one of these suggestions? What happened? Join the conversation!

White Collar Christianity

It’s clear that Jesus cleansed the temple (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-48, John 2:13-17) because merchants were doing business there, defiling what was supposed to be holy. I wonder, though, if there could have been another reason beneath the obvious one…

Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. … Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. –Exodus 12:3, 6

Set apart for the Lord your God every firstborn male of your herds and flocks. … Each year you and your family are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God. –Deuteronomy 15:19-20

Sacrifice as the Passover to the Lord your God an animal from your flock or herd… -Deuteronomy 16:2

Sacrificial lambs in the Old Testament cost something—something significant, not just in coins but in time, effort…even love. The people were supposed to tend that firstborn male animal for a year, to protect those spotless lambs (“without defect,” Numbers says over and over) before they gave them to God. So when people in Jesus’ day trotted into the temple court with a bulging purse, their investment in the sacrifice was purely financial. They spent no effort or time, they had no emotional connection to the sacrificial animals. They hadn’t fed it or protected it from predators or led it into the fold each night. The people were buying their way into a false sense of acceptance.

We no longer offer animal sacrifices (thank goodness!), but the principle of sacrifice remains.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. –Hebrews 13:15-16

The offering of service is
supposed to take effort, cost time,
and mean something when it’s given.

We can’t just pay and expect someone else—the professional Christian—to do the work for us. We praise Him with our own mouths, not only the mouths of the paid professionals at the front of the church. We do good and share with others ourselves, not only through charitable organizations and collection drives. The offering of service (doing good and sharing) is supposed to take effort, cost time, and mean something to the giver when it’s given. Feels like I’m stating the obvious, but to truly be a sacrifice, our offering needs to be…well, sacrificial.

What Is Sacrifice, Really?

It’s the difference between donating money to an orphanage and adopting a child. WE NEED BOTH, obviously, but if all you ever do is donate money to this or that cause/charity without experiencing the meeting of needs, the down-to-earthiness of real ministry, you’ve missed so much of the Christ-life!

I would never openly criticize the ladies’ organizations that collect socks this month and canned goods next month. We need people to donate tangible items to help people without the means to buy these things for themselves. I cringe a little, though, when they call that collection a mission project. How are we “on mission” when we’re sitting in our safe, clean churches, keeping our distance from the ones who need tangible help and spiritual guidance?

Jesus entered into the
healing experience alongside
the one being healed.

Jesus broke the bread into pieces to feed the masses (John 6:1-13). Jesus stooped down, made some mud with his spit and smeared it on a blind guy’s face (John 9:1-7). Sometimes he didn’t touch—didn’t even see—the one He healed (e.g. the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:5-13), but many times, he entered into the healing experience alongside the one being healed. For those of us who can’t usually do miracles (which includes me and, I’m assuming, all of you), we need to follow the hands-on approach.

This Isn’t Just My Opinion

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian during WWII, knew this to be true.

 A major theme for Bonhoeffer was that every Christian must be ‘fully human’ by bringing God into his whole life, not merely into some ‘spiritual’ realm. To be an ethereal figure who merely talked about God, but somehow refused to get his hands dirty in the real world in which God had placed him, was bad theology. –Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

More recently (and less famously), I read these musings from Kelly Johnson, a blogger at The Glorious Table.

How was I to answer this call? When I saw stories on the news about impoverished people in war-torn countries, I prayed for mercy. I sent money to the Red Cross in response to natural disasters, sponsored children through Compassion International, and gave to our church mission programs.

If I was honest, I really didn’t run across many hungry or poor people in my comfortable suburban circles, so I offered my money and my prayers where and when I could. Is this what God meant when He said to “spend myself” on behalf of the hungry? How could a suburban mom “satisfy needs of the oppressed” when the needs were so many and felt so far away? Could there be more?

Johnson learns that there is more, that actually serving with your own hands is a far different—and more blessed—experience than paying someone else to serve.

It’s Not the Pastor’s Job

Our leaders equip the rest
of us to share Truth.

Our church leaders are not responsible for meeting the needs of people or telling them about Jesus on our behalf. They do these things as believers, but they don’t do them for us or instead of us. God gave us church leaders to equip his people for works of service (Ephesians 4:12). Our leaders equip the rest of us to share Truth, to do good and share with others, those sacrifices with which God is pleased (back to Hebrews 13:16. See also James 1:27).

In “Escaping Professional Christianity,” I wrote,

I want to stop being like the doctor, all sterile and expecting people to come to me. I want to be more like the midwife who goes out into homes and gets messy attending the birth (John 3) of new believers.

I write this from a place of conviction. Like Johnson, I don’t do it. I make excuses about being too busy or protecting my kids, but the truth is that I just don’t want to get my hands dirty. It would be inconvenient, maybe even painful. So I’m saying these things to myself first and just sharing the same thoughts with you. Let’s stop looking at the authentic Christ-Life as something beneath us. Let’s loosen our ties, dig into people’s problems, hold their hands, look them in the eye, and walk alongside them! Let’s sweat in His service, get some calluses, and lose sleep over lost friends.

Yes, we’ll get hurt.

Yes, we’ll get dirty.

Yes, we’ll feel exhausted.

Yes, it’ll be expensive.

But. (You knew there was a ‘but’, didn’t you?) You know that feeling at the end of a long day of manual labor? That sense of accomplishment and satisfaction? That’s what waits for us, except now it’s bound up in God’s pleasure, which is even better!

Want to share this?

White Collar Christianity: Why God calls us to get our hands dirty. #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Use the comments below to share your own thoughts on this topic. I’d love to hear from you!

Past the Expiration Date

-author's photo
author’s photo

Eyes still drowsy, he carefully tipped the almost-empty milk jug over his cereal. Instead of a slow stream, the contents glugged out onto his Fruit Loops—gelatinous clumps of white goo.  A millisecond later, his nose scrunched up.  The inhale required to speak almost made him gag.  “Mo-om, the milk has gone ba-ad!”

. . .

I rummaged through the cabinet; “Here it is,” I muttered as I grabbed that last new tube of antibiotic ointment. We had been overseas for almost three years, but I knew there was one more unopened tube. As I tore into the box, something prompted me to hold that fresh, unblemished tube up to the window where I could read the imprinted date on the crimped end. It looked perfectly fine, but it had expired over six months ago. I don’t know how effective it was, but we used it anyway because there was no alternative.

. . .

Genesis 22. Strapping some small logs onto his son’s back, Abraham instructs the servants to “sit tight” while he and Isaac go ahead a little ways to worship. After tucking the knife into his belt and lighting a long torch, he turns his face grimly toward the mountain. “C’mon, son.”

Barely out of the servants’ sight, Isaac asks the obvious question: “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham’s answer reveals his heart.

With every step toward Moriah, God, when are you going to provide?

With every stone stacked to build the altar, God, where is your provision?

With every piece of wood piled onto the stones, God, do I really have to do this?

With every tug on the rope that bound Isaac, God, I trust you, but . . .?

Raising the knife above Isaac’s neck, Abraham takes a deep breath. Last chance, Lord.

Wait! Did someone just call his name? His voice tight, catching on every word, he responds, “Here I am.” (Samuel said the same thing to Eli in 1 Samuel 3. Isaiah said the same thing to God in Isaiah 6:8.) The angel tells him, in essence, that he doesn’t need to kill his beloved son.

After a long and audible exhale (Had he been holding his breath?), Abraham finally shifts his teary gaze upward and notices a ram stuck in a thicket. Was it there all along?!? Doesn’t matter. Hands still shaking, he unties Isaac, and together, they sacrifice the ram.

Let’s step back from the story.  How did Abraham come to this place? He was following God’s explicit command to go to that mountain in Moriah and to sacrifice his special son to God. (By the way, child sacrifices probably didn’t seem as crazy to him as they do to us. People did that kind of thing in those days; see Leviticus 18:21.) In obedience, Abraham never hesitated. He didn’t have to enjoy it, but God said to go, so he went—every step of the way. But he stopped when the angel called out to him. That, too, was an act of obedience.

Have you ever considered that God’s instructions or leading might have an expiration date?

We tend to concentrate very hard on the task at hand.  Were we to find ourselves in a situation similar to Abraham’s, some of us might even have said, “God told me to do this, so I must go through with it!” and convinced ourselves that the voice we heard—an angel!—was just in our heads, just wishful thinking.  What if, in that moment with the knife raised above Isaac’s prone body, Abraham had insisted on following through with God’s command? What if he had killed his son?  Think about it: all of history would be different.

Granted, our decisions and obedience rarely carry the weight of Abraham’s decision, but the point is the same. God can change course mid-stream.

That’s okay. He’s God.

Just because He points you (or me) in a certain direction doesn’t mean he wants you (or me) to arrive there.  Maybe it’s a test, like it was with Abraham. Maybe it’s a lesson. Maybe something happened along the way that was always His actual intention (like with Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8). Maybe we just couldn’t grasp the full vision at the time of the calling.  God’s will is not a straight, logical path through life. The sooner we get comfortable with the altered plans, the switched tracks, the delays and interruptions, the sooner we will find rest in Him.

What is the difference between a hesitation and a pause? Confidence. It’s okay to pause in order to double check that you are still in God’s will, but don’t hesitate. We may watch for the milk to go bad, but we never wait on it. We may check the expiration dates on our medicines, but we don’t live our lives around those numbers. So, like Abraham, we must watch for Him to change His plans (confidence), but we must not wait on that change (hesitancy).

What about you? Have you stayed in a relationship, a job, or a mindset past its expiration date? How did you know and what did you do?

Is it time to pause, take a breath, and confirm that you are still being obedient?

Slavery: Any Volunteers?

Some stayed on the beach.
Some went in the boat.

Some hang out in the Kingdom.
Some serve the King.

Some enjoy so-called freedom.
Some are truly free.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? . . . In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples (Luke 14:28, 33).

In Western culture, the owner, contractor, and architect sit down to estimate the cost of a building before they shovel even that first scoop of dirt. If the owner can’t afford it, the architect makes modifications or they wait for more money. Few things are sadder than a half-finished, overgrown skeleton of a building. It means someone failed . . . and lots of people didn’t get paid.

The undertaking of following Jesus whole-heartedly is of far greater significance than a new house or office building. Following Him means becoming His slave.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus . . . (Rom. 1:1 NIV)

I, Paul, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ . . . (Rom. 1:1 MSG)

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus . . . (Rom 1:1 NASB)

You’ve probably heard about the voluntary slavery of Bible times. If an indentured servant decided he didn’t want to leave at the end of his term, the owner would pierce his ear (basically). It’s in Deuteronomy 15, if you want to read about it.

What does it cost to become the permanent, forever-after slave of Jesus Christ? Can you just get your ear pierced and be done? I got my ears pierced when I was a kid and again when I was eighteen. Believe me, that’s not what my piercings mean.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions . . .” (Matthew 19:21)

We walk from so-called freedom into this servitude. Imagine first selling absolutely everything you own—down to your spare toothbrush and your warmest winter coat, your e-mail accounts and your 401k. Then you step in front of the King (we are, after all, becoming servants of THE King), and you lay every penny that you made on the floor in front of His throne. On top of that stack of money, you lay your skills and talents, your degrees and certificates, your reputation, your parenting philosophies, even your marriage. Scary? My hands shake even typing it.

These actions say, “I absolutely and completely trust you, my King and Lord, to supply everything I need and to direct every action I take.” You leave off worrying about whether or not you’ll need that big winter coat tomorrow because you know He’ll have the perfect overcoat ready for you tomorrow morning since He knows exactly what the weather will be. You stop worrying about your reputation because you bear His Name (synonymous with His reputation), and it is without equal. You no longer rely on your résumé because He already knows exactly what assignments fit you and will satisfy you. Thus, you finally find peace because you trust Him.  It seems backwards–unlike what we expect.  It’s that uncommon sense again.

In not a fan, Kyle Idleman puts it like this, “When you finally surrender all that you have and all that you are you will discover the strangest thing. It’s only by becoming a slave to Jesus that we ever truly find freedom” (153).

Whatever . . . or Whichever?

There are two ‘tones’ to the word, “whatever.”  One says:  I concede, I don’t care, I give up, I wash my hands of this mess.  If you talk with your hands (like me), you throw them up in the air, palms out, fingers stiff and pointed upward.  Think of Pilate refusing to take responsibility for Jesus’ death (Matt 27:24).  The other ‘tone’ says:  I accept anything, I don’t have an opinion, it doesn’t matter to me.  Your open hands are in front of you with palms up, a sign of surrender.  I’m talking about the latter.

When we offer ourselves to God as his servants, we often say, “Yes, Lord, whatever you want.”  But we inadvertently put restrictions on it.  Really, we mean “whichever you want” from a limited set of possibilities.  I heard or read this analogy a long time ago:

“What kind of sandwich do you want?”

“Oh, whatever you have, but not tuna salad or plain cheese.  Actually, do you have a turkey-and-swiss?  That’s what I really want.”

Here’s another not-original-to-me example (meaning someone pointed it out to me).  In Acts 1, the disciples needed to replace Judas.  So they chose two men, then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart.  Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry . . .’ (Acts 1:24-25).  They ended up picking Matthias, but you never read anything about him again in the Scriptures.  Not that I have better judgment than the disciples, but maybe . . . just maybe . . . they should have prayed first, then started choosing people.

The challenge He places before us is about being COMPLETELY open:  “whatever you want, Lord”—without limitations, restrictions, even hesitations—even if it seems completely backward or off-the-wall . . . even if it reverses or impedes the path we thought He had laid out for us . . .  even if we have to take back stated plans and/or honest intentions.

Even if we have to eat cold hot dog and tomato sandwiches.

“Do Me a Favor?”

This idea of doing favors and owing favors came up in my English class late last year, but it had to . . . percolate through my brain . . . and integrate with some other input before I saw the spiritual application.  Other input like:

We have limited the impact and meaning of Christianity by majoring on personal salvation given to us in and through Jesus as Redeemer while effectively leaving the Jesus as Lord part out of the equation.

–Alan Hirsch, in the forward to Sacrilege, by Hugh Halter

Think about a time when someone approached you and asked, “Will you do me a favor?”  When did you answer that question in your mind?  Did you need to know what they wanted first?  Probably not, unless you are a very suspicious person.  Most of the time, we answer immediately because our answer is based on the relationship we have with that person rather than on the task they will request.

In addition, that person knows the depth of the relationship, and we trust the person to ask for something that ‘fits’ the level of relationship we share.  We also understand that favors imply reciprocity.  You “owe” me in direct proportion to the magnitude of the favor I do for you.

There are certain people who could ask me for a kidney, and I wouldn’t hesitate to give it.  They could ask me for a $1000, and I would walk straight to the ATM.  (These few people know who they are, so don’t try it if you’re not one of them!)  It really doesn’t matter what they ask because the relationship is so deep and so strong that I will do it regardless of what it costs me.  And I will not expect to be repaid.

When we surrender ourselves to be Followers of Jesus, it’s so much more than signing up for the Heavenly choir!  We have given Jesus permission to ask us for as many favors as He wants–from huge to hardly noticeable.  Our answer to Him cannot be based on the significance of the task or the number of ‘favors’ we’ve already done for Him.  It must be based on the existing relationship we have with Him.

Here’s what typically happens:  He says, “Get ready.  I’m about to call you to something.”

We reply, “Well, what is it?  I probably need to pray about it first and decide if I’m ‘up to it’.  Then I need to see how it fits into my schedule and what repercussions I should expect.”

NO!!!  The conversation should be more like, “My child, I want you to . . .” and we say, “Yes, Lord” before He even finishes the sentence.  In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”  “Yes, Lord,” he answered (Acts 9:10).  Then God tells Ananias to go to Saul/Paul–a scary proposition!  Ananias has some . . . let’s call them ‘hesitations’ (9:13-14), but he has already said “yes”, and there’s no doubt that He will obey.  A willingness to say “yes” doesn’t mean you’re foolhardy; it doesn’t mean you’ll never be afraid.  It means that you trust the One Who Asks, and you agree with Him regarding the status of your relationship which, as I said, determines your response.

So if we approach obedience like we approach favors for friends, we will consider our relationship with Jesus, and answer based on its depth and importance to us rather than looking at the task.

The relationship determines the response–not the risks, rewards, or rights.

And what, you may ask, about the reciprocity aspect of favor-doing in this context?  Well, He already gave everything, didn’t He?

Sheep and Grapes

Like every follower of Christ, I take great comfort in Psalm 23, and always have:  The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not be in want (yes, I learned it in King James).  And I think I memorized Psalm 100 before I could read:  We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.  We all know that sheep are dumb, skittish, and virtually helpless.  That’s why they (meaning we) need a really good shepherd.  But why does a shepherd need sheep?

The master/landowner sits in his upstairs study and gazes out the window onto the hillside where his calm, white sheep graze peacefully in the afternoon sun.  It’s a beautiful picture, and it brings him great pleasure to see his sheep so contented.

But when he purchased those sheep at the nearby sheep auction last month or last year, his goal was neither this bucolic scene nor the contentment of the sheep.  As he examined their hooves, checked their wool, and looked in their mouths (I actually know nothing about buying sheep; I’m just postulating about what the buyer might do.), he had one of three purposes in mind for each of those sheep.

Shearing: for His comfort

Some of the sheep had the potential for beautiful, thick wool, which the master will shear every spring.  The wool is made into clothes for the comfort of the master and his family.  Have you ever seen a freshly-shorn sheep?  It looks naked, scrawny, and vulnerable.  That’s embarrassing.  Sometimes God calls us to something that the world thinks is foolish or that we find embarrassing.  Sometimes He asks us to be emotionally naked, to seek forgiveness instead of justifying ourselves, to expose our own faults and weaknesses rather than hiding (figuratively) in a thick, comfy blanket of wool, to put on that tight shirt even though we’ve gained five pounds and people can see the fat rolls on our bellies.  (Okay, He wouldn’t ACTUALLY call any of us to wear the too-tight shirt, but the point is that we’re revealing parts of ourselves that we don’t want to show.)  And why?  For His glory.  He wears a beautiful, thick coat made from my gifts . . . from a sacrifice that doesn’t physically hurt me but definitely inconveniences or embarrasses me.  John the Baptist spent his adult life out in the wilderness, wearing camel-skin clothes and eating grasshoppers.  That’s pretty off-the-wall.  Still he said, Jesus must become greater; I must become less (Jn 3:30).  Paul said, For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:10).  Delight in insults and persecution?  Really?  As Oswald Chambers points out (3 Oct), “Paul also said, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:13) and what he was referring to were mostly humiliating things.”

Slaughter:  for His table

Other sheep selected by the master are thick and strong.  After a few months in the pasture, they will be slaughtered and eaten.  Some of us are called to give up absolutely everything–to prepare ourselves (fatten up), then let go of everything important to us and be entirely used up in service to Him.  Perhaps Oswald says it best, “Will I surrender to Jesus Christ, placing no conditions whatsoever as to how the brokenness will come?” (3 Nov).  Or as Paul put it, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20). And why would He use us in this way?  Again, it’s for His glory.  Our job is to fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness (2 Thes 1:11 [NKJV]).  Would He really slaughter one of His beloved sheep just so He can have a good dinner?!?  Absolutely.  And if you have a problem with that, remember that He is GOD:  It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Phil 2:13 [NKJV]).  It’s all about Him anyway.

Sacrifice:  for His honor

Only the best are led down this route.  Do you remember the Old Testament regulations about sacrifices?  Those lambs had to be perfect.  I have no right to even talk about this, and there’s not much I can say.  There are those few Believers whom He calls to completely relinquish this earthly life.  We tend to think, “What a waste!”  But God boldly declares, “What glory is Mine!”  A Campus Crusade website says, “Since Jesus laid down His life, 43 million Christians have become martyrs.”  There’s no way to confirm that number, but Revelation 6:9 talks about those who have been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  Verse eleven says they are waiting on more to join them.

Did you notice that two out of the three groups of sheep have to die?  Do you realize that NONE of the sheep just stay on the hillside getting fat and feeling happy?

Since when is God primarily interested in my contentment or my happiness? Since when is His end-goal my satisfaction or honor?  Whether we live a sacrificial life or die a sacrificial death, let our voices join Paul (again):  I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil 1:20-21).  I want this to be my theme verse, but I never live up to it.

Okay.  I haven’t talked about the grapes.  Same idea.  The vintner (I looked that word up.) wanders up and down the rows of grape vines, selecting the ripest, sweetest-looking grapes for his next batch of wine.  Why?  So he can lay the grapes on a shelf and look at them?  Hardly.  They would spoil very quickly.  I’ll just let Oswald Chambers explain it.  “God’s purpose is not simply to make us beautiful, plump grapes, but to make us grapes so that He may squeeze the sweetness out of us” (2 Sept).  And “Yet God can never make us into wine if we object to the fingers He chooses to use to crush us.  . . .  If we are ever going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed–you cannot drink grapes.  Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed” (30 Sept).

The potter-and-clay imagery fits here, too.  Different types of clay are used for making different types of pots.

Like the sheep (and the grapes and the clay), God chose us for a purpose/purposes.  Time on the hillside is for preparation.  It’s not the end goal.  Grapes aren’t grown just to look beautiful, nor are pots formed to sit on a shelf.  So we shouldn’t be surprised when we are embarrassed for His sake, when He calls us to give something ELSE (when we feel like we’ve already given so much!), or even when He calls us or those we love to give their very lives for His glory.  That’s my purpose.  Let me live in it.