The Opportunity of Sacrifice

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I tear open the package and unfold the navy blue robes, untangle the tassel that loops around the little hat. All I can think is that under all this shiny material, this hat is just cardboard. Its taken four years to get here, and I really can’t imagine it being over, even if the ceremony is two weeks away now. For some reason, the feel of the cardboard and the simplicity of the robe itself makes me think back on so many things that have occurred in those past four years that aren’t school related. For four years of growing and changing, they present me with something so simple to wear. I wanted to learn. and that was the whole point of getting to this end goal of standing here in geeky robes and a ceremonial tassel hanging from my head. It all feels very temporary, though I know my very spirit, and mind, and every part of me has been changed by this experience of the grand endeavor of a Bachelor’s degree. Looking myself over in the mirror, straightening the embroidered stole on my shoulders, I realize how much I have had to leave behind to get here, and how much I have gained. This is the nature of sacrifice: laying down something for something greater.

The word tells us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice. By the very definition of the word ‘living,’ we are changing, moving, learning people. We never stop asking questions and looking for the next step. It seems that the two words contradict each other—sacrifice and living. Sacrifices are dead. Sacrifices have been laid aside as an offering of honor and reverence to God. Their make-up has been changed by fire. This passage in Romans 12 continues the idea that we are to changing and growing, transforming our minds to be renewed and see things from a different perspective. From a higher perspective. If we are to call ourselves sacrifices, and also call ourselves living, we must renew our perspective.

Recently, I’ve been asking a lot of questions, none of which have been answered by burying my nose in a textbook. Why is the world the way it is? Why does God work the way he does? What makes the human mind function the way it does, craving relationship and yet guarding itself when things get too easy? In all of my questioning, God has answered me simply: “I am sufficient.”

In this big mystery of a world he has created, I have to remind myself that I’m not entitled to answers. I’m entitled to follow and learn along the way. This is another aspect of defining yourself as a living sacrifice; your shortcomings and your questions have been burned away. Sacrifice, by its nature, can’t be reversed. Once you’ve presented yourself before the Cross, you cannot look back. You cannot turn away now, and even if you did, you would still leave changed. If you ignored everything Jesus had for you, he’d still have a call to your life. Day to day, you are faced with your insecurities and your failures and all of the reasons not to commit to him, but you must know that you don’t have to define yourself by them anymore.

This is where the opportunity comes in. Learning and changing and growing are all part of the make-up of our minds as humans: that’s what they’re made to do. Take in this world around us and give definition to it. The thing is, as Christians, we’ve got a higher perspective. That might seem presumptuous, but do you realize we’ve got the mind of Christ? A share in the mind that created the heavens and the earth. If that isn’t enough of a reason to lay down your insecurities and let yourself dream away, I don’t know what is. Sure, it seems scary. It seems like exactly the kind of thing you’d be likely to mess up, having endless freedom to dream and think as big as you can. But on the other side of the coin, it’s the biggest honor and opportunity you will receive.

In the middle of my college career, I switched schools. I made the jump to return home and spend more time in ministry and in deeper relationships. This brought up a lot of worries in me. That I was devaluing the opportunity of higher education, that the outcome wasn’t going to be all I thought. But I am so much better for having made the change, and not because I learned anything I couldn’t have learned elsewhere, academically speaking. But because I laid down something that I held as important, to watch it develop into something greater, and while I haven’t changed the world (yet) I’ve watched the world change and become more like the Kingdom of God everyday, through people who have found their way out of homelessness and addiction and into a greater life.

My choice to make the change wasn’t the end of the world, because I’ve got to remember how small I am in the grand scheme of things. But also because God works everything together for our good, and the good of those who love him. This means opportunity awaits. Once we commit ourselves as sacrifices, once we vow to leave all else behind and seek the Kingdom, a new opportunity is open to us to take the world in our hands and bring it back to him. Then, we are presented with a simple robe that reflects his light. That defines us as part of the family. The cost was easy to add up. Why not choose to lay everything else aside, when its already counted as lost? What’s before you is greater, even when it gets difficult to see. So we exist like Isaac did, sacrifices and yet alive, on a journey we know will have a great end. Things will get difficult, but we must remind ourselves who we are. And remind ourselves that while the sacrifice took no time to prepare, the learning to live as one is part of the journey too.

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Sacrificing the Sins That We Sometimes Like


The truth is – sins are called TEMPTING because there is something about sin that is attractive to us. It TEMPTS us.

Some sins are enjoyable, or self-satisfying, or seemingly harmless.

In fact, most temptations appear to offer us something. The world (and all of its messiness) feels romantic, especially in regard to sin. Whether this temptation is despair, or lust, or lying, or cursing, or getting drunk or high, the drama of it seems inviting.

Or at least it does to me.

I crave understanding all life experiences- I crave doing what I shouldn’t do…in a way.

Paul wrote about something similar in Romans 7. He says he does what he doesn’t want to do, and doesn’t do what he should do. I reread the verses and investigated. I identified with his despair in his division. He had a sinful nature, and he also had the Spirit.

For years, I struggled with a specific temptation. It became heartbreaking. I wondered if I would ever see the other side of this struggle. After so many failures, I questioned myself. I questioned whether God actually DID give freedom from sin. I questioned if His Spirit was in me because I kept struggling. I felt as if I only had a sinful nature because the sinful nature was winning constantly. Soon enough, I heard “I gave you freedom, now walk in it.”

I read through Romans 6-8 multiple times, I was reminded I am not alone.

There is a sinful nature inside of us, but we also have the Spirit. The sinful nature in us will try and convince us to sin, and the Holy Spirit will teach us to live righteously. And we are these souls, listening to both, and making our choices. The fact that we HAVE a sinful nature should not defeat us. We have a choice to follow the Spirit or our sinful nature. In following the Spirit, there is freedom, we just have to “walk in it.” So, for example: our sinful nature will tell us to gossip about another, the Spirit will tell us to love her, and we have the choice of who to obey.

So, in every decision, we have to realize our separateness from the sinful nature. (Please read Romans 6-8 for yourselves to see how Paul writes about this). We have a sinful nature, but we ARE not sinful nature. Just as we have a sinful nature, we also have the Spirit, and in every decision we make in regards to temptation, we are listening to one. In Romans 6-8, Paul says that we choose to be “dictated” by one of them. Dictation refers to an allegiance. Who do we put our allegiance in – our selfish desires or in God? Therefore, even when we make mistakes, we can confidently declare that we will not be dictated by sinful nature. Even after we mess up and sin (as we all will at times), we can refuse to be DICTATED by that sin. We can look at our sin and say, “that sin was a mistake…and I obeyed the wrong influencer for a moment, but I decide to not permanently obey sin (be dictated by sin, as Paul talks about). I decide to capture my thoughts and actions and serve God, not my sinful nature. I will not be dictated by sin for my life, I messed up, but my life is still dedicated to God… This is my choice.” Our actions will be dictated by the Spirit.

And why would we choose to be dictated by the Spirit when some sins are so fun and pleasurable? Why would we refuse to be governed, commanded, and at the whim of our sinful nature? Because our sinful nature is not serving us or anyone. All of the pleasure that comes from sin is the biggest deceit… it is temporary happiness which then leads to a world of pain.

In all of this, we get to demonstrate trust that God knows best. He says sin is bad for us; He tells us that certain things are not good. BUT the reason he says this is because he knows what is best for us. I have full faith in this. Despite the romanticism of sin, I know his way provides more LIFE. I trust in that, even when I’m tempted…and I DECIDE to walk in freedom. I will not be controlled by sin, my mistakes, or my flesh. What terrible things to be controlled by.

I do not regret DECIDING to be dictated by the Spirit instead of by my sinful nature…because I know God knows more than me. I also know He takes better care of me than I can for myself (though sometimes it doesn’t feel true). I know He is a good Father, ruler, and I know He wants best for me. (This is MUCH more than I can say about sin).

Our temptations don’t surprise God. He created us with the desire for intimacy and adventure and purpose and depth. But in deciding to sacrifice living by what my sinful nature wants, I am assisting God in protecting me from all the badness. He tells us “keep away” from hurtful and destructive sin. He wanted to give me so much more: a life full of meaningful and FULL adventure, purpose, and intimacy.


I don’t see sacrificing as a burden, but as a delight. I am sacrificing certain sins (even the most tempting of acts) because He cares for me…and I get to act on that. I decide what I will be governed by, and it is NOT my sinful nature.

For me, after viewing my sinful nature as an influencer in my life, instead of seeing it AS ME… I started resisting temptation with ease. I decided I will not obey such a horrible leader (sin). When my actions became a decision of who I am following, the decision was easy. When I felt tempted, I no longer got discouraged that I WAS tempted. Instead, I used the opportunity to show my power…to defy the odds and DECIDE to be governed by the Spirit, even when listening to my sinful nature was attractive. Now, when I do mess up, I know I am not defeated, because sinning once does not equal being a slave to sin. I choose who to give my life to. Even in my mistakes, I offer my life to God. I put my sins behind me and keep going.





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The Growing Focus

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“Do you want a burger or tacos?” Asks your friend who is driving the car. But you can’t hear the question over the music playing through your headphones. You’re not really listening to that either though, because the music is just to keep out the noise while you read your favorite book. That was the plan, that is until you got distracted and started looking out the window amusing yourself with billboard pictures that pass you by. You are completely relaxed with nothing seeming to emotionally move you or change your train of thought. It isn’t until everyone in the car starts yelling for your attention that you realize how far gone you were.

This has happened to all of us at some point and we don’t think very much of it. In these moments we feel care free and without a focusing thought as our mind wanders through whatever comes our way. Though these moments may offer a blissful feeling we don’t realize how just how far away from our true selves, and much more God’s self, we become. Proverbs 17:24 tells us that the eyes of the fool wander to the ends of the earth. It is not God’s will for us to be aimless and without focus.

This idea of being constantly sober minded and focused runs all through the Bible. Even Jesus himself had to find times away from his disciples and the crowds to remain focused on God. Luke 11:34 tells us that if our eye is single our whole body will be filled with light. Singly focusing our attention on God is really all we are called to do because this will then influence us to become closer to Him. When we begin to do this we will suddenly find ourselves overcoming the temptations and growing in our faith in ways we never dreamed of.

So to put it simply as it is said in Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Think on these things and your focus will then become single. Focus on these things and you will find yourself closer to God. Think on these things and just as the sunlight grows the green of the earth, so will you grow when you focus on the true source of light in God.

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For the Love of Sacrifice

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How great it would be to be able to talk to all of you readers in a live interview on this subject! Sacrifice! There is Joy in sacrifice! I love sacrifice so much it probably confuses some people. You see I find such divine beauty in sacrifice. It is so powerful to witness. I remember one time when I was in Africa there was this boy who was obviously starving for food and he had his little sister by the hand. They are walking together along this dirt road. Looking at them you could just start feeling pain on your own body. You could see their bones sticking out. Someone came up to them and gave them each a small bit of something to eat obviously trying to be fair and giving them equal amounts. They smiled and continued on, but then something happened that I did not expect. This little boy, trying to be the best big brother he could be completely sacrificed himself and gave BOTH pieces to his little sister. He was obviously struggling with no strength or energy but he let his sister have seconds and saved none for himself. This set me back for days.  In my mind I thinking “Wait a minute! Your sister has something to eat and you need to eat too! What are you doing?” In the Bible there is a teaching that tells you if you have two of something and there is someone in need give them the extra one. This little boy went beyond that. He did not even save one part of the food for himself. What in the world kind of sacrifice is this? Does he not care if he dies? And there it was . . .the question that brought me full circle months later after flying back to the states once again.

Do you care if you die? What do you take into consideration when you sacrifice for others? Do you have a limit? What caused that limit? This boy taught me something that day. No matter how much his body was aching, no matter how much he had been left behind and piled on top of with adult responsibilities he remained believing he did not have the time to consider himself. He strongly and valiantly stuck to his true colors and that meant putting others before himself. Some of you may be saying “So what? Sweet story but hey I am sure it happens every day in our world right?” The reason this is so outstanding is because these two were very likely orphaned. Here they are smack-dab in the middle of a poverty that teaches them to steal, kill, and, destroy in order to survive and  in addition to that they are taught never to dare of thinking their live’s would be of any value. And yet here this little boy is continuing on about his life on another set of terms. Somehow he knew what he was doing was right and worth something. When you experience moments like that you have to know that what you just saw was a specific and special kind of love.

I no longer believe that we should take into account the value of our own lives in the midst of needed sacrifice because we are not supposed to be living for ourselves. I admit I am human and I wake up in the morning arguing with myself sometimes. Shall the morning be a colorful breakfast and an entertaining morning show?, or should it be a conversation with God armoring up my soul as the soldier I really am? How shall I spend the day? My first thoughts are not always fighting for the weak, seeking out the lonely, and standing for freedom. Though they should be. Sometimes I am the soldier that is trying to ask for a day off in the middle of the war. How selfish am I? Very.. .That is until the moment I remind myself that self must be sacrificed and in that moment strength rushes my blood in the spirit of rebirth. Every time without fail God renews me as I am stepping into sacrifice. This is how I have fallen in love with sacrifice. Why should we care if we die for the sake of sacrificial love? Is this not the very definition of Christ?

Hearing the word sacrifice translates as love in my mind. The word causes a flood in my mind just the same as the love. I have had to give up things about myself in order to become more unconditional in love and unfailing as a person. To become as unfailing as possible in human form. Stripping the layers of myself to become  better, doing things to allow myself to become clean, falling to my knees asking God “Help me through this!”. But in the end I had to learn how to give myself up. What was I hoping to achieve when I cried out to God without being willing to sacrifice anything of myself? So now that I am in love with sacrificial love how does that translate in my life? When I am crying, I feel beauty. I see imparted wisdom within hardships. When life hurts my heart races to sit beside those going through worse then me like that little boy and suddenly I am honored to go through what is set before me. When I decide to live for God, I have to put Him first and give self up. This is the Joy of sacrifice. Sometimes I am prideful, self preserving, vain…I don’t believe God made me choose these things. Last time I checked God is extremely polite and lets me decide who I want to be only stepping in to make changes upon request based in humility. God gently allowed the power of His example of sacrificial love to change me. We can all allow ourselves to become who we are on account of things coming from the outside. Poverty, riches, culture . . .But that little boy in the story from Africa had a strength that I wish more of us would claim at a young age and I truly believe he was dipping into the divine nature God tells us all about.

Reinventing who we are in order to become a being that is all cause and affect directly from God. Replacing our nature with divine nature. This is something you really have to want and it involves a lot of humble pie and sacrifice. God making us who we are is not how we are born but rather how we choose to be reborn through sacrificial love. So how do we give ourselves up to reinvention? Well just as difficulty often leads to beauty, sacrificial love leads to rebirth. Sacrifice often brings pain and fear to people’s minds but what it really should be recognized for is it’s beauty that allows you to discover an awe demanding strength that is truly divine. Sacrifice causes people to stop and think about the love they just witnessed. Sacrifice is often what goes down in history. Sacrificial love is a divine power that we all should be leading with.

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Show Your Scars

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Sacrificial love can be a bit of an abstract concept. Agape. In Greek, it means “highest love.” We hear about it all the time, in devotions and from pulpits; we all know it’s an important and lovely idea. Just an idea, however, not something that takes concrete form in our everyday lives.

My all-time favorite show is the miniseries Band of Brothers, about an elite paratrooper unit in WWII. One of the show’s most powerful scenes (spoilers ahead!) involves the men trying to survive a hellish bombardment. A sergeant, Joe Toye, is running past foxholes, making sure his men are safe, when he’s caught in one of the explosions. He’s left lying in a snowdrift, one leg completely blown off. When Joe’s friend, Bill Guarnere, hears his cries for help, he leaps out of the safety of his foxhole and takes off through the woods to find him. The bombardment returns, worse than before—shrapnel everywhere, entire trees exploding. Bill’s comrades yell at him to get under cover, that he’s going to die, but Bill refuses to leave his friend alone and wounded. He finds Joe, picking him up and trying to drag his dead weight to safety. And then…the screen goes black. A shell’s hit them. When the smoke clears, the two soldiers are down, crumpled together in the bloodstained snow, and now Bill’s leg is gone, too.

In another of my favorite shows, Avatar: the Last Airbender, the series finale has one of the main characters, Prince Zuko, in the fight of his life alongside his best friend Katara. The battle’s turning in their favor when the villain sends a bolt of lightning at Katara. It’s not an attack she can repel, and Zuko knows this. So he turns and throws himself bodily in front of the lightning, absorbing the electricity into his chest. In an instant, he sacrifices his life and his chance at the throne for his friend. Although Katara manages to save him and the wound heals, it leaves a permanent, blood-red scar on his torso.

We’re all told from an early age that love hurts. “Life is pain,” says Westley in The Princess Bride. Switch out “life” for “love”, and the quote still rings true. C.S. Lewis writes, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one… Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

As humans, we hide our scars. The trigger points, the painful memories, the shouted words that still echo in our heads. We bury it all and present a flawless front, because we think admitting that we’re vulnerable enough for love to hurt is a sign of weakness.

When Jesus was resurrected, He still had the marks of the spear-thrust in His side and the nails in His wrists. I always found this interesting—His resurrection body was a preview of the unfallen, eternal bodies we’ll be given in the New Earth. In other words, physical perfection. And yet, He carried those wounds. Of course, one purpose for this was to convince the disciples (ahem, Thomas) that He was real, but what if it went deeper than that? I wonder if the scars were kept not because they were beautiful, but because they alone could truly tell the story of the love Jesus has for us, the love the Father has for his son. They were agape, written all over the body of God.

Of course, it’s easier to understand the worth of scars like that, physical reminders of a straightforward, big-gesture act of love.  I don’t have any of those scars. When I look at the sore spots in my soul, they’re the result of messy human relationships, where people hurt and disparaged and failed me. But wounds like that still mean we loved. We didn’t walk out of the relationship. We were the soft-spoken listener while someone lashed out. We made dinner, bought a birthday gift, went to sleep under the same roof, even though there’d just been a fight. We got hurt, and we still came back the next day.

Not all scars happen as the price of loving people, however. Sometimes humans hurt each other and there’s nothing sacrificial or loving about it. Sometimes we hurt ourselves. That might be you.

Maybe there are scabs on your wrists. Maybe your body is damaged from years of struggling to eat. Maybe you go to war everyday against the cruel voices in your head, voices that you’ve allowed and encouraged. Maybe you sabotaged a relationship and would give anything to do it differently. Maybe you’re like a friend of mine, who’s just now starting to wear short sleeves that show the cuts on her arms from when she was a teenager.

The last thing I want to do is romanticize any of these experiences. Scars aren’t beautiful on their own; they’re ugly reminders of terrible pain that should never have happened to you.

But they’re also a sign that you’re still here, still living. That your heart isn’t locked up in the casket yet. That you are loved by a God who has not given you up—who would leap out of a safe foxhole, jump in front of lightning, hang on a cross for you. They’re love’s history, written on your body.

And one miracle of the healing process is how often God chooses us to help heal people who’ve been wounded the same way we have. Your scars may not remind you of love now, but you’ll probably find in your lifetime that they become a reminder of love to someone else.

So even if it hurts, show your scars. Like Bill Guarnere, walking on one leg for the rest of his life. Like Zuko, who sees the lightning-burn on his chest every time he changes clothes. Wear them like a badge of honor –the tangible marks of how you’ve sacrificially loved someone, or of how you will someday. Our God wears His, too.



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