It has been an emotional day. It's hard to explain, but sometimes the sacrifice is more keenly felt than at other times.
Today my oldest child hopped on a bus and headed to Army Basic Training. It isn't that we had to say our goodbyes. We are on the other side of the globe from him already. We said our goodbyes months ago when we left him Stateside as we returned to the field. Today is different though. Today I am reminded that I cannot be there for these big events. Today I didn't get to help him pack. I didn't get to nag him about running late. I didn't get to fix his last good breakfast. I didn't get to go with him to the bus station. Why? Because God has us in a distant land serving Him.
There are some Christians who say that serving the Lord is never a sacrifice. Maybe those who believe that are stronger Christians than I am. I think maybe they don't understand what the difference between a gift and a sacrifice is. I think maybe that they don't understand that it's okay to sacrifice and that sacrificing isn't a sign of spiritual immaturity. I think they don't fully understand what it means to be a "living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1) and what it means to give the "sacrifice of praise" (Jeremiah 33:11; Hebrews 13:15).
I don't think I grasped the meaning of sacrifice until we came to the field. The people here taught me the real meaning of sacrifice. Many times we have been invited to someone's home for a meal. We would arrive at their home for the meal. The home was often little more than a shack. Many times it would have dirt floors and often only one or two rooms. We sat on the floor or a bed because there was no table or chairs. Then the family would feed us a huge meal including meat. We knew this was more than they could afford and that they would feed us until we were full, even if it meant they would go hungry. They would always serve us first to make sure they had prepared enough to fill us. Sometimes a family would not eat with us for fear of not having enough, and other times it was because they didn't have enough plates to serve everyone at the same time. The people were so happy to feed us and serve us. They were not standing there hoping we would only eat a little. They didn't have worried looks on their faces wondering if they would get to eat. Yet if we ate too much they would go hungry.
A gift is something you freely give. It costs you something. But a sacrifice goes deeper. A sacrifice costs you something precious and valuable. It hurts. It causes a loss. Like hunger pains in the night because you gave your food away, sometimes there are pains in the heart because you gave something more precious than food away. Does it make a missionary less spiritual because they cry when they feel the sacrifice? Actually it makes the sacrifice more precious in our Father's eyes. When we shed the tears and still willingly lay the sacrifice on the altar, we declare, "Lord, it hurts, but you are more precious to me than this very precious thing!" He isn't looking for dry eyes and pasted on smiles as we offer our sacrifices. He is looking for a willing heart that doesn't begrudge the sacrifice even when it hurts. He wants us to freely (willingly and liberally) sacrifice.
Psalm 54:6 "I will freely sacrifice unto thee: I will praise thy name, O LORD; for it is good."
Yes, today I feel the heart hunger pains. Today I had to reexamine my heart to make sure that I was still freely sacrificing. Today I had to remind myself just how worthy He is of my praise and my sacrifice. He is worthy of this and much, much more.
Go ahead. Shed the tears. It doesn't make you less Christian, less spiritual, or less holy. But remember the sacrifice He made for you. Through the pain, through the tears, through the hurt... He still laid His life down on the altar because you were precious to Him. You were more precious to Him than His own life and all the comforts and glories of Heaven. Take your sacrifice, lay it on the altar, shed the tears, and then say with your whole heart, "You are worthy, Lord."
Today it hurt. But I can honestly say He is worth it.
I live with him. He really is just an average guy. (Well, actually I think he is pretty special!) My husband is a fairly typical male. He struggles finding things, loves tools and big engines, tinkers with projects in a storage room/workshop, and whines a lot when he is sick. See? He's just an average guy.
Most pastors and missionaries are just average people. If you met them, you would realize that they aren't super Christians. My former pastor used to say he was going to write a book called "Pastors are People Too!" And they are.
But there is one thing about these men that is special: They have the call of God on their lives. God has separated them out and called them for a special purpose. That's why God blesses those who honor His man and He rewards evil to those who set themselves against His man. It isn't that the man is special. It's that God's calling upon the man is special.
Psalm 54:4-5 "Behold, God is mine helper: the Lord is with them that uphold my soul. He shall reward evil unto mine enemies: cut them off in thy truth."
David wasn't a pastor or missionary, but he was God's man, set aside for a special purpose. Even David recognized that God rewards us according to how we treat His man. When Saul was king, David refused to do Saul harm. Saul was trying to kill David, but David would not lift his sword against Saul. Why? Saul was God's chosen vessel. He was set apart by God for a special purpose.
How do you treat your pastor? How do you treat missionaries? How do you treat preachers? If your husband is one of these, do you remember to treat your husband as God's man? Do you talk bad about men of God? Do you cause them harm? God will reward us according to our treatment of those He has set apart for a special purpose.
Here's something that might ruffle some feathers: How do you treat the President? Do you realize that the President is set apart for a special purpose? It doesn't matter if a person likes the President or not, God has established him as the leader of the country. His office given to him by God deserves respect. God has a special purpose for each president. We do not have to agree with the man, but just like David did for Saul, we should not lift our sword nor our tongue against him with disrespect. How do you speak of the President? Is it with respect to his office?
Do you pray for these men?
It happens every year. April 1st rolls around, and as it approaches, my youngest child makes big plans of jokes he will play on that day. We have told him of grand adventures we used to have when his Daddy and I played April Fool's Day jokes. Daddy has warned him that Mommy is a masterful April Fool's Day prankster and that he should not ever get in an April Fool's Day war with me. My husband is speaking from experience and can tell stories of his wounded pride as he fell victim to my pranks. He and I have agreed on a truce and have not played jokes on each other for many years. He conceded to my superior April Fool's Day skills.
When the day finally rolls around, my youngest child usually has forgotten his evil April Fool's Day plans. The day passes uncelebrated until it is too far spent. The only acknowledgement of the day is found on social media. As I scroll through posts from many friends and family I often see the same words: "Happy Atheist's Day!" This is always followed undoubtedly by part of a verse.
Psalm 53:1 "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God..."
Since an atheist declares there is no God, many Christians have deemed April Fool's Day as Atheist's Day. Oh, I do agree that an atheist is a fool. It is hard to comprehend someone looking at the organization and beauty of creation, and still convincing one's self that we arrived as an accident of chemical reactions. Quite foolish indeed! But the rest of the Psalm has something to say about us all. It brings every man, woman, and child under the banner of fool.
Psalm 53:3 "Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one."
The rest of the Psalm declares that we are all fools because there is none righteous. There is none that seeks after God. Before salvation, we are all fools drowning in our own filth of sin and tainted self righteousness. What about after salvation?
Every time I operate my life without regard to God's Word or His will, I am saying in my heart, "There is no God that I need to seek..."
I am a fool!
Every time I cover my sin I am declaring in my heart, "There is no God that I will answer to..."
I am a fool!
Every time I neglect prayer or Bible reading or church attendance, I am announcing proudly, "There is no God that I need to learn from..."
I am a fool!
When I operate my life independently of my Creator, that is when I have revealed what is truly in my heart. That is when I am saying, "There is no God!"
April Fool's Day is not just "Atheist's Day". It's a reminder to me that my heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, too. Maybe we should say, "Happy We-All-Need-the-Lord Day" because we are all fools.
I must admit, I love stupid criminal stories. You know those stories... They are about criminals who are convinced they will never get caught, but they do really stupid things in their pride that end up getting them caught. I loved the story of the guy who broke into a house while a family was on vacation, but he got himself locked in the garage. He had to eat dog food for several days. When the family came home, there he was! Then there was the criminal who broke into a home. He used a folded up piece of mail to shimmy into the sliding glass door lock. He stole a ton of stuff. He was quickly apprehended because when he left, he left behind the piece of mail. It was his own mail complete with his name and address. Oh, and then there are the countless stupid criminals who steal stuff and then post about it on social media, bragging about all their new things. Some even post video! It's like a video confession just sitting there for the authorities. Stupid criminals crack me up!
But here's the truth:
We are all stupid criminals if we think we can get away with sin. It's only because God is good and merciful that we don't immediately pay the repercussions of our actions and choices.
Psalm 52:1 "Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? the goodness of God endureth continually."
Psalm 52 is about a stupid criminal. He loves his sin and mischief. He boasts in it. What he fails to see is that God has him on surveillance camera. God is seeing it all. The criminal will face judgment. But this criminal trusts in his own strength, wisdom, cunning, and riches.
Psalm 52:7 "Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness."
When a criminal gets caught and pays for his crimes, it sends a message to others to think twice about following his path.
Psalm 52:6 "The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him:"
The righteous see what happens to those who flaunt their sin. The righteous choose to fear instead of follow. They choose to learn the lesson from other people's mistakes instead of having to learn them from their own stupidity. Then the righteous laugh... they share "stupid criminal" stories. Why? Because they know that nothing escapes God's view and they think, "Wow! I am not going to do that! God sees everything!"
The moral of this story? Don't be a stupid criminal. God sees. It's like leaving our name and address at the scene of the crime, and we might as well post a video confession because God already knows!
Galatians 6:7 "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
I have learned more about myself and about my God through parenting than I ever imagined possible. I am more like my children than I realize. I remember when I was younger I did many of the same things my children do, too. My children are not any different than anyone else's children. They all have the same sin nature.
My youngest child loves aggravating. He finds irritating others a great sense of amusement. My oldest child is the boss, controller, manipulator, and drama queen. You can imagine the fireworks this created when he and the youngest child were growing up. Then the middle child is the sneaky one. She is good at flying under the parenting radar. She knows how to get to her two brothers without stirring up trouble for herself. She isn't controlled by emotions and she uses her head before acting. Parenting these three has been an adventure.
Needless to say, the two boys, oil and water that they are, created the most friction. One would stir up trouble and the other would turn up the volume. I would try to intervene. At some point I would tell them to apologize to each other. Sometimes the apology was slightly less than sincere. The guilty child would roll his eyes, sigh, and in a patronizing tone blurt out, "Sorry!" Oh, how that would drive me crazy! The child obeyed, but the heart was far from truly being repentant.
Psalm 51:16-17 "For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
In the Old Testament, God had commanded the children of Israel to sacrifice animals as a covering for sin. It was a temporary plan until the promised Saviour, Jesus, was sent. David wasn't saying that sacrifices weren't necessary during that time period. He was saying that the sacrifice of animals wasn't the focus of what God wanted to teach. It wasn't the goal or God's desire and longing. God desired a humble, repentant heart.
When I was disciplining my children, I wasn't focused on getting them to say the words "I'm sorry" as if those words were some kind of magic sin eraser. "Quick! You sinned against your brother. Say the words!" My desire for them was that they would see their sin and see their broken fellowship. My desire was that they would be repentant. It was a heart issue and I was after the heart.
How many times have the words "forgive me of my sins" rolled off my tongue but my heart was not sincere nor repentant? How many times have I treated prayer like a magic Etch-a-Sketch board for my sins, with a few quick shakes the problem was erased? God is looking for a broken and contrite heart.