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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sacrifice


"I'm wondering," I said to Steve and Dawn, "do you see living and serving in Ethiopia as a sacrifice?"

It was at the end of our 10 day stay in Ethiopia. Steve and Dawn have lived in Ethiopia for 18 years, Steve teaching theology and training leaders, Dawn working for Bingham Academy to recruit staff to teach the 1-12 grade students. We hadn't had a shower for 3 days because there wasn't water in the city. They were going into rolling blackouts where there wouldn't be power for at least 3 days per week (but you didn't know which three days). Dawn had been sick for at least a month with an unknown illness that was causing severe abdominal pain. Their oldest son Jack was recovering from a ruptured appendix - no small thing in a country where major medical issues are dealt with outside of the country because of the level of health care.

Yet, I had met many SIM missionaries and most of them had been there a long time - 15 to 25 years. I met a couple of newer ones too. They had only been there a couple of years but were thriving in the midst of the challenges.

In talking with Steve and Dawn about my question, they confirmed my sneaking suspicion - the idea of living a sacrificial life was not what they dwelt upon. Because it wasn't a life of sacrifice, it was just life. It was the life that they were convinced God had called them to, equipped them for and confirmed them in. No doubt there is an awareness that living in Ethiopia means they don't have some things that other people have (like internet access faster than the occasional dial-up they get when the phones work).

I think we get a feeling that we are sacrificing when we try to compare our life with the life of those around us. And, the amazing thing is, we always compare ourselves to those we consider better off than we are. And then we think - "Oh! What a sacrifice this life of living for Jesus is!"

God's words from the Bible come to mind in this. Take a moment to read Romans 12:1-2. Everyone is called to live a life of sacrifice, if we are a follower of Christ. But we aren't supposed to sacrifice things. We are supposed to sacrifice ourself. It goes back to the Old Testament (and New Testament era) understanding of what worship involved. Judaism and other religions of the day used the sacrfice of animals in their worship ceremonies. The animals were dead. You and I, we are alive and that is what we are called to be - living sacrifices. We give of ourselves, voluntarily, laying ourselves on the altar of God to used in any way He chooses.

For some, that is an absolutely appalling, frightening thing. And it is that way because we don't very well trust God to do anything with us that would be much to our benefit or pleasure. But laying our lives on the altar of God to be used any way God sees fit is the pathway to the "good and acceptable and perfect" will of God. It seems to me that would be a pretty good place to be. I am all for good, acceptable and perfect! Those three words are also a pretty good beginning description of the character of God - a God you can trust.

Last Sunday I received an e-mail from Steve telling me they had finally diagnosed what was afflicting his wife. She has an ameoba living in her. They are very difficult to detect and very difficult to kill. Pray for Dawn to be healed quickly. She has a lot of things to do to live out that good, acceptable and perfect life that she gets the privilege of living in Ethiopia.

Living for God is not a sacrifice, it is a privilege. But it isn't necessarily challenge free.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On The Way




When you go to bed at 12:30 AM, 3:45 AM comes around really fast! The good news is everyone for the trip to Ethiopia remembered their passport and a clean change of underwear. Other than that, I'm not sure and I'm not asking!

I am sitting in Dulles International Airport in Washington DC. In another hour we will be boarding our flight to head to Frankfurt, Germany - our next stop. That flight is a little longer than the 4.5 hour flight from Sacramento to DC. From Frankfurt we will fly to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with a brief stop in Sudan.

As the team sat at dinner, discussing our experiences and expectations so far, we all agreed that what greets us will be vastly different than what we have been trying to imagine. For me, that is a part of the wonderful adventure of the trip. It really does cause us to trust in Jesus more than we normally do, when faced with the mysteries of life.

Dan Zacher sat beside a young woman who was questioning him about our trip. She asked him if we are conservative baptist people. From her question, it was obvious that it was not a good thing to be a conservative baptist person. I think it was safe to say that her question came out of some negative experiences and woundedness that still remained.

As we discussed how to respond to a question of that sort I shared with the team that those kinds of questions can have a tendency to put us on our heels. My response to her question would have looked something like this:
"We are a group of people who are trying to follow Jesus and to become more like Jesus. The thing that guides us in our understanding of who Jesus is (not was) and what he wants from our life is the Bible. We are honestly seeking to do what Jesus said was most important - to love God and love other people. What has been your experience of Jesus?"
We all have boxes we try to put people in so we can understand them. This young woman had a negative box and she was trying to figure out how we fit in that box. the thing I love about following God is he is the master "Box Smasher." Just when we think we have it all figured out, God reveals more of himself that makes us run and hide or run to him and embrace even more of his fullness. And then we have to once again admit we don't have God totally in our box.

One thing I am sure of - this trip will be a box smashing journey. We will see and experience God in ways we never dreamed of. Here is the really cool thing - you don't have to go to the other side of the world to have your box smashed! Every time you step out in a new way to trust God, your box will stretched, reshaped and possibly smashed! That is a good thing. We can't become more like Jesus without coming to know Jesus more deeply.

There is something I am clear on. On this trip I will receive much more than I will give. That's the way God works - you can't outgive him. But it is always an adventure to try!

As we travel on our journey across the world to serve God and people, I pray you will embrace your journey and walk across the room, the office or the street so you can see God in new ways too.

Tell you what - I'll pray for you as you pray for me. Only through God's power are we able to accomplish God's purposes.

More later...

dc