Easter, Faith, Grace, Life, Reflection

Sanctuary to Sacrifice

2 Corinthians 1 4

Maybe it’s the stage of life I’m in, where one child’s nighttime waking is almost guaranteed (and so, therefore, is my tiredness), or maybe it’s because we sprang for the extra layer of cushioning on our mattress, but I love my bed.  I could just nestle in there and stay snuggled up all day.  The demands of my life don’t permit such laziness, though (more’s the pity!); in order to attend to my necessary duties, I’m forced to leave the comfort of my bed.

A couple of years ago I was compelled to write about not dwelling in comfort; I wrote the following article for our church magazine, because it was to my fellow Christians that I felt this message should be directed.  Basically, I felt the need to remind us all that comfort is not a dwelling place; i.e. it is good and necessary for us to nestle into the comfort of our salvation; it is good and right that we should draw near to Jesus and find peace and joy in His presence; but we need to remember that we are called to be His hands and feet.

God calls us to take refuge in Him.  He calls us to find comfort in Him, to ‘dwell’ in His perfection and light as a respite from a world in which we experience pain and struggle and darkness.  Our Lord encourages us to take time to reflect and revel in being in Him.  We are to embrace and celebrate the sanctuary of God’s love – but our responsibility does not end there.  The purpose of this refuge is to re-charge us to go into the world and embody that love for others. Second Corinthians 1 instructs us that God comforts us in order that we may then provide the same comfort to others.

Christ himself took comfort in the Father.  Jesus went up to Gethsemane to pray and to seek peace from the turmoil in his soul.  But he did not stay there; from that hilltop he went out, strengthened in his resolve, to do what God was calling him to do.

God is calling us to do His work, too.  Like a mother whose reluctant child is clinging too long to her skirts, He is ushering, cajoling, exhorting us to take heart and trust in his love to go with us as we leave the sanctuary of His breast.  We have things to do in the world around us and we must not tarry in this place of comfort for too long, lest we deny our calling to be God’s heart out there in a hurting world.

As we approach Easter, we’re invited to look upon the Cross.  Often, we’re tempted to bypass the gritty crucifixion scene and move straight to the more comforting symbol of the empty cross and the hope and peace offered there.  It’s easier to skip the hard parts of Christ’s story – His suffering for our gain – and go directly to the joy of our redemption and His resurrection.  But let us pause before the Cross, and Christ upon it – bound there by our sins – and consider the challenge therein.

It’s difficult to contemplate the Christ’s experience on the cross.  It is not comfortable to encounter the pain or suffering of our fellow human beings; it’s not comfortable to consider how much we have and what our responsibility might be to those who have not; it’s not comfortable to think about speaking God’s truth into a world which has, historically and continuously, rejected Jesus. “I’m not called to missions,” we declare – forgetting that we are called to be God’s hands and feet in this world.  “It’s a fallen world – there will always be sin and poverty and sickness.  There’s nothing we can do to change that.”  But do we really think we’ve got no responsibility to pass on the comfort of the Father to those who struggle beyond our natural sphere of influence and interaction?

As Christians, we’re called to be people of action.  Our deeds should reflect God’s heart in the world.  But too often we go to that place of refuge in our faith and we STAY there. Instead of taking sanctuary, being filled up and encouraged, and then getting back into the thick of things to do God’s work, we wrap ourselves up in the comfort of our salvation, in the comfort of our blessed lives, in the comfort of our smug completeness – and we do nothing.

Instead, let’s commit to the challenge of aligning ourselves with God’s will for our lives.  This is an ongoing process; the action God expects of us depends on our particular gifts and talents as well as the stage of life we’re in – we need to remain open to God’s calling in small ways as well. But we do need to be willing to embrace discomfort in order to show God’s heart to others.

Accepting grace is simply not enough.  How can we receive a transformative gift and remain unchanged by it?  God is calling us to demonstrate His love in this world.  He is moving in us, dwelling with us, encouraging us and renewing us; all for the purpose of equipping us to go out and be active in our faith.

This year, as we complete the Lenten season, perhaps we can challenge ourselves: if comfort is something we strive towards or even spend a lot of time thinking about, then perhaps it’s time to re-examine our priorities.

Jesus didn’t die to ensure our comfort.

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Something to consider: When we encounter difficulty/challenges, do we seek a way out of those challenges or do we seek God in the midst of those challenges?  Remember, God invites us to take comfort from Him; from there we are equipped to go out, strengthened by His love and His presence, and do whatever we’re called to do.

Go in peace (but do make sure you GO OUT THERE!),

 – Trix

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Faith, Life, Marriage, Relationships

Sacrifice and Salmon Sandwiches

a lesson in generosity by Micah Esguerra on flickr

 

Around the world, Christians have just celebrated Easter – a time when we remember the greatest sacrifice ever made.  Reams have been written – and will continue to be written – on the subject of Christ’s death and the victory of his resurrection; many of these theses, essays, and expositions are convincingly and eloquently written.  I’ve decided that this Easter, instead of adding my tuppenceworth and talking specifically of Christ’s sacrifice, I might consider the more general topic of sacrificial love and how it reflects God’s love.

 

When we talk about sacrificial love, our thoughts often jump to wartime heroics and other acts of bravery in which a person forfeits/risks his or her life for the life of another.  But equally significant (although perhaps less dramatic) are those acts of sacrifice in which someone is required to give up his or her own pursuit of happiness and fulfillment in order to provide happiness and fulfillment to someone else – a love in which one sacrifices ‘self’ for the sake of another.

About a year ago, a video entitled ‘What Is Love?’ was making the rounds on the internet.  Australian couple ‘Bill and Glad’ were nearing their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and the short film paid testimony to the strength of their love as Bill lives out the reality of the vows “in sickness and in health.”

Bill and Gladys (Glad) Forward worked as missionaries in far-flung corners of the globe, raised two children, and faced the challenges of life together for almost four decades before Glad began to exhibit signs of dementia.  Glad had spent much of her lifetime caring for her family – but a little over a decade ago her mental health began to decline, and it was discovered that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  Instead of giving her care over to a nursing home as many of his friends and family urged him to do, Bill committed to caring for Glad himself at their home; and he has continued to do so over the past ten years, even as the effects of the devastating disease have worsened.

“I do everything – from the moment she gets up to when she goes to bed – I do absolutely everything for her…  But I count it a great privilege to care for this one that I’ve loved all of these years and continue to love,” Bill explains.

He continues, “You see, God has loved us so unconditionally – and I understand that God has put His love in my heart.  And because I realize how much God has loved me, that’s how I, too, can love my lovely wife… It’s a love that, to me, means that I can do everything for her.”

In a follow-up interview with Aussie magazine Salt, Bill outlines the various roles of love in the marriage relationship:

Marriage to me means, very specially, the opportunity to live selflessly.

 You see, there are three words for love that are very strong in the Greek language that we don’t get in English. The first word is eros, now that’s physical love, that’s touch. And that is such an essential part in a marriage, particularly at the beginning.

 The second word is filos, and that’s friendship, companionship.  And ultimately, that deepens and grows. But the third part of marriage is another word called agape. That’s selfless love

Bill believes that these three cords work in harmony to create a firm foundation for a strong marriage. *

The Bible exemplifies sacrificial love as the highest demonstration of love:  “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).

Laying down your life doesn’t have to mean giving it up entirely; it simply means that you put your own needs aside in favour of focusing on the needs of someone else.  Bill’s testimonial of his love for Glad also highlighted the fact that she had lived selflessly for him and others for years (prior to her illness); she, too, had loved sacrificially.

Stories like that of Bill and Glad are heartwarming and encouraging examples of sacrificial love; but we needn’t be daunted by the prospect of such a total surrender of self.  The smaller sacrifices make a difference, too.

I still remember going on a picnic with my grandparents on a sunny day near Durban; we were in South Africa for a visit with our family, and my Gran had packed us a special lunch to share.  There was fizzy ginger beer, crispy chips, and other assorted treats, and for the four of us there were two choices of sandwiches: tuna and salmon.

To the casual observer, these sandwiches might not have appeared to be too different: fish and bread for one, and fish and bread for the other.  But there was a difference, at least to my grandparents; because salmon was a treat.  Salmon was more expensive, and therefore my frugal Gran would not have indulged in it often. My sister and I understood this to be the case, and we expressed delight over both choices and urged our grandparents to choose their favourites – but of course they only insisted that we have the salmon sandwiches.  My Gran, in particular, had an iron will (though also the kindest heart) – so there was no winning that argument; we had to accept the best sandwiches graciously.

It made no small impression on me that we were so important to my Gran, and so loved by her, that she would sacrifice a special treat even when we gave her the opportunity to not make that sacrifice.  It may seem a small difference – but to me it meant a great deal.

In both of these stories, the giver forfeited something for the sake of another without exhibiting a martyr mentality.  We’ve all known people who will take the smallest piece of cake while drawing attention to that fact; people who moan about how much they have given up in becoming parents or caring for their own aging parents or whatever – people who make a fuss of their sacrifice.  But for sacrificial love to be fully itself (that is, to demonstrate love most purely), it requires the sacrifice to be downplayed, rather than highlighted, by the giver.  To seek glory for giving something up is to rob the act of its meaning and essence.

In Bill Forward’s description of his duties for and devotion to Glad, he takes pains to elaborate on the privilege he feels it is to care for his wife.  He never mentions the cost to him of being Gladys’s primary caregiver as they both have aged and her condition has declined; and yet we can imagine the toll it must take on him. The physical exhaustion, the emotional anguish, the mental anxiety – all of these would be real and valid claims upon which he could have drawn added sympathy or admiration from viewers, and yet he doesn’t mention them.  Bill’s focus is not on what he has given up but what he gains by living sacrificially.

My sweet Gran didn’t fuss about how she was having the tuna sandwich because she wanted us to have the salmon sandwich because the salmon was nicer so she wanted us to have them and she’d just do without so that we could have the best ones  In fact, after she helped herself to a tuna sandwich she quietly demonstrated her enjoyment of it without making a big deal.  She was gracious, as always.  And her small sacrifice was made bigger for it.

Following the astounding popularity of the original video about their life, Bill commented on the love that motivates his actions:

“It’s a love that says, ‘What can I do to meet the needs of those around me?’”

What if we all asked ourselves that question?

If each one of us committed to living our everyday lives just a bit more selflessly, imagine the impact we would have on the world.  Imagine the example we would set for our children and the generations to follow, if we just asked ourselves that little question each day, sought the answer to it with diligence, and remained humble about the sacrifices we were privileged to make.

What can I do to meet the needs of those around me?

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Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

-James 1:2-4

 

 

* Quote from Bill Forward’s interview with Celeste Mitchell of Salt here

  • Bill & Glad’s video here (pay special attention at the 2:40 mark)
  • The follow-up message here
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