All In

Paradoxes. The Bible is packed with them. There are seven right off the bat:

Exaltation through humility (James 4:10).

Strength through weakness (22 Cor. 12:10).

Receiving through giving (Acts 20:35).

Freedom through servitude (Romans 6:18).

Gaining through losing (Phil. 3:7-8) (Mark 8:36, 10:29-30).

Living through dying (John 12:24).

Finding through losing (Matt. 10:39).

One story in the Bible that I have not seemed to grasp is Abraham going up the mountain to offer his son as a living sacrifice to the Lord. Even though the ten commandments were not intact at this point, we are told that God never changes his identity. Therefore, I have always struggled with the fact that God would ask Abraham to murder. Not just anyone. His son. And to burn him as incense to the Lord. And did I mention that this was the son of promise? God had long before promised Abraham a son in his old age. Abraham wasn’t getting any younger. And yet, it appeared as if God was asking him to start over at square one and kill the very blessing God had given him.

Would we be faithful if commissioned to the same task? We think of the things we love and if we were honest, we clasp our hands tighter around those things as we think of being asked to give them up. The tears sting. It is almost unbearable. Why would God be an Indian giver? Why would He give only to take away? Could we say with Job, “The Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”?

Pretty sure the answer is no.

And yet those are the things that the Lord pinpoints. They are the things vying for attention and competing for our affection. Our God is jealous for us, and He wants nothing to come between us and Him. So while He loves enough to give good gifts, He loves too much to allow those same gifts to destroy.

This is why He waited. Abraham had a history of putting the Lord first. As a general rule, the Lord said “go” and Abraham asked “how high?” He packed his bags and went without an inkling of the destination, for Pete’s sake. The man didn’t cling to anything. He gave his nephew the best of the land, he gave up his cattle, and he risked his own life for his relatives. But then came Isaac.

And Isaac stole his heart. Isaac was the one thing he never thought he’d have in this world. A SON. Think of how glorious the day was when he was born and Abraham hobbled over to look at his face. His son of laughter. And I believe at that point, even in his nineties, Abraham’s whole world changed. That boy became everything. He became his world.

And God just needed to know one thing. He needed to know that Abraham still loved Him…more than anything else. And especially more than his son.

We think that is a harsh request. But you see, soon enough God would send His only Son to die for Abraham. And for you and me. And God just needed Abraham to prove that He would do the same for Him.

God doesn’t take captives. He gives free will and allows us to love Him if we will. And once He has our love, He will woo us every time we run away. A romance with God is of the deepest kind. With God, an affair doesn’t mean divorce. It means full-out pursuit. No one can serve two masters at the same time, anyway. God has no rivals and He refuses to compete with anyone.

So we ask God what it is that we possess– likely something He has been very intentional about giving to us– that means the most? Who is the person that He has given us that we can’t imagine life without? What is the thing we thought we’d never have on this earth?

He is asking us to sacrifice it. In order to have more of His blessings and commune with Him more intimately, we must choose a favorite. He will not be pushed aside while we pursue other endeavors. And furthermore, it is unkind and unrighteous of us to ask Him to, after the sacrifice He willingly made for us.

God wasn’t asking Abraham to kill his son that day. He was asking him to sacrifice his pride and joy. To give up his rights so he could receive the fullness of God. To die to his own affections and begin living to God’s desires. To find God’s strength at the end of his weak sword.

To lose what he thought he would never have so that he could find what he had always possessed.

Jesus wants it all. He deserves it all. He gave all and He can take all. He wants us to love Him most of all and proclaim Him all in all.

Are you all in?

 

Stuck

“It wasn’t until I decided to give up on my relationship and let the Lord have control that we were able to make amends. We found our true purpose and got our priorities in line and then we were able to love each other properly. It’s been a rough road, but I know we’re both better for it.”

I took a long sip of my cold ChickFilA Coke. I understood what she was saying. When it seems that everything is coming crashing down, that’s when we find out that God’s plan was waiting to surface. We were too busy kicking our feet and trying to save ourselves. In the process, we wore ourselves out and just when we thought there was no hope for us, we see the Savior beneath us, ready to carry us to safety. We are relieved. And we feel REALLY stupid.

Lately, it seems as if I’m using the words “I feel stuck” a lot. Knee deep in house plans, our budget continues to soar and our funds seem to diminish. I am fearful to plan because I don’t want to build something half-way, only to find out that it wasn’t what we wanted but now we are stuck. Heart-invested in a relationship that I think I can’t live without and yet am finding resistance at every turn. Crazy-scheduled so that there is barely move to breathe, but all the things are good and ministry and things I want to do. But I feel over-loaded.

Stuck sucks.

And then along comes the most horrible wonderful thing. A new-found discovery that means we can’t build until June. A week without contact and I recognize the feelings of withdrawal but am grateful for fewer distractions and more time with my Jesus. An unpredictable snow day which canceled my busiest day that week.  I realized that Jesus was underneath, trying to save me the whole time. But I was paddling too hard to notice.

It seems that when something goes from being a blessing to distracting me from the Lord, it is no longer the best thing for me.

Maybe until something dies, it can’t truly live.

But I am scared to let go. The dreams I have and the activities I find fulfillment in and the relationships with people I love. I think of what I am losing and anticipate my life without them and I feel empty. But I am not focusing on what I am saying yes to.

It is these crossroads that are often the proving grounds for what God is going to do. And I am coming to embrace the unknown and look with expectancy to what God is going to do. And He always comes through and never sells me short.

Life is beautiful. But attitude is everything. A heart cannot be content when negativity abounds in it. When we can begin to look at true life as death, one of two things will happen. We’ll either realize that the life we were living wasn’t abundant, and that the life He has for us is way better than anything we conjured up. Or, we’ll come to grips with the fact that the new life we have found in the absence (of whatever we thought we needed to live) is actually better than what we had before. And almost always, I’ll have a better attitude about it because I have given up control.

Perhaps being stuck is a wonderful place to be. Stuck between God’s grace and mercy, with nowhere to go except to find God at every turn.

I Think I Can

Bookbags scattered along the floor in the entryway. Lunch boxes strewn across kitchen countertops. Socks under barstools were the only thing that remained of them. Outside the French doors, ruddy-faced children were jumping on the trampoline in the crisp afternoon air.

Four young’n’s had become six overnight. Just when they had gotten in the groove of four– because heaven help us all, four is quite a handful– the call came and offered them two more. And they caved to the pressure– and to the compassion– and opened their arms to receive two more to become part of their family. And then there were eight. Eight loads of laundry a week and eight dinner dishes to scrub and eight sets of fingerprints all over everything.

And when they arrived, every ounce of organization was squelched as they accommodated two more and added bunk beds and put two children in each room. When the kids got home from school, library books went flying and sandwich boxes went piling and mama went floundering.

I had witnessed enough foster families to know the chaos that can thrive in the lives of those who submit to the adjustment. Who cave to the Lord’s direction and mumble yes, even if just under their breath while holding it, eager and yet defying the change to come.

And the surprising thing? With each pair of shoes flung against the wall, grace falls. Despite the small daycare and the feet flying and the voices hollering, the only thing I could feel in that house was peace. It smacked me in the face when I walked through the door.

The oldest let me in and went to announce my arrival. I heard someone ask if I was the babysitter.

As she gave me a tour, the mom told me her story and picked up toys off the floor and hung up jackets and yet the overriding feeling I had was calm. And as the baby squalled and the new girl asked to draw and the big boys asked for snacks, she replied in a calm voice that I couldn’t be sure was not just for company. And yet grace came from her words– no matter what they were.

Sometimes our tone reminds us of what our internal condition should be. But more likely, our words will reveal what is inside. And I could sense peace– amidst confusion and overwhelming feelings and perhaps a little hint of denial– but there was no mistaking that it was there.

How often does the clutter in life drown out the voice of Jesus? Some clutter is unavoidable, because a life lived well can be messy. And it is possible that the messiest lives can be the most meaningful. Some clutter is what we add to our own plates– events we wanted to participate in or projects we wanted to do or things we just had to have. Over time, we find ourselves choking– choking out the most important things because of our busyness. And usually, the Lord is the first thing to go to the backburner.

I speak from experience.

We scheduled my next visit and she briefed me on the routine and I assured her that I would help in any way I could. My time was limited, but I was very happy to help. My offering of two hours a week was like a million to her.

As I left, she thanked me. And after a second’s thought, she thanked me more specifically for initiating help. “Because I wouldn’t have known what help I needed or how to ask.”

Because sometimes the people who need the most help don’t ask. And maybe simply an invitation will provoke all manner of relief. That they are not alone. That there is hope. That they can do this.

That’s how Jesus operates. He offers help before we request it. Because sometimes we don’t realize how much we need it. It’s so easy to forget the grace that is at our disposal if we only would tap into it. He came to give life. But not just any life. Life. More. Abundant.

“When you got here, they asked me if you were a babysitter. I told them, ‘She’s my hero.'” 

I said goodbye to her and the children and breathed a prayer as I left. I asked to be worthy of my title. To be the best hero that a girl in a pair of jeans and Sperrys could be. I wasn’t slaying dragons, but I was slaying discouragement. I also prayed that I would be willing to accept the heroes that God sends my way instead of trying to do it all myself. To accept grace. As I walked to the driveway, I felt a little lighter as my own burdens fell off my shoulders.

I know we can do this.