When Praise is a Sacrifice

Sacrifice is hard.
I suppose that is clear from the very definition of the word.
The idea of a sacrifice of praise seems a strange sort of concept.  We tend to view praise as spontaneous, as rising from our rising and joyful emotions.  How can such praise be a sacrifice?
Easy to praise
Easy to praise
That sort of praise is not such a sacrifice.  But what about the praise that comes from a woman who has just lost her child?  What about the praise from a man who does not know how he will feed his family?  What about the praise from Christ-follower who lives every day in fear of torture or death because of Who he follows?
Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name. (Heb. 13.5)
The praise of the one ravaged by cancer, the praise of the one dying inside from loneliness, the praise of the one who isn’t even sure that God is really there…these are a sacrifice.  These are that sacrifice of praise.
Suffered years of illinesses
Steph – Suffered years of illnesses and still chose to try to praise God
Kristina - died of cancer, leaving her husband and baby behind
Kristina – died of cancer, leaving her husband and baby behind, yet still sought God while alive.
But how?  How is it even possible to praise God while living through such circumstances?
Through Him
Through who?
Look back just one chapter.
…looking to Jesus…who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Heb. 12. 2-3)
How?  By looking to Jesus.  By looking to the One who was able to offer up His own sacrifice of praise while enduring the physical pain of the cross, while enduring the emotional shame of the cross, while enduring the heartbreaking separation from His own Father.
Jesus - crucified, humiliated, abandoned, yet still offered praise to God
Jesus – crucified, humiliated, abandoned, yet still offered praise to God
By keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, and therefore off of ourselves, we are given courage and strength to do what we think is impossible.  We are kept from growing weary and fainthearted.
By fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, we are able to continually offer up a sacrifice of praise.  An offering of praise that endures all time and all circumstance.  An offering of praise that is beautiful to God.

Art credits: Sunlight through tulips photograph by Kirk Sewell Photography; photograph of Jesus carrying the cross sculpture by Asta Rastauskiene

The Day God is Dead

Holy Saturday.
2048px-Vittore_Carpaccio_-_Preparation_of_Christ's_Tomb_-_Google_Art_Project
The day God is dead.
The day we lose God Himself.
Don’t miss this.  Don’t rush through it.  On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, God is dead.
Belgium
One part of the Trinity, yes, but God nonetheless.
The Word of God is gone.  We can no longer hear Him.
Linger in this day.  Does the earth feel different?  Somehow vacant?
Elmendorf
There is, for this day, no possible way to reach God.
And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
No Most Holy Place where the high priest could meet with God.
It is finished.
He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
No Word of God in whom we can see the Father.
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Garden Tomb Side
Remain in this day as long as you can.  I don’t understand how, but somehow this day exists on which we are completely isolated from God.
Breathe in the horror of this day.  God is dead.  He is, for this day, unattainable.  Can you catch even a glimpse?
The disciples did.  They lived it for what must have felt like an eternity.
We’d rather skip past this day, this Saturday that contains Christ’s body in the tomb.  Yet we must linger if we are to grasp the power of Easter Sunday.  We must dwell here awhile if we are to be allowed to hold the joy of Easter Sunday.
When the Son, the Word of the Father is dead, then no one can see God, hear of Him or attain Him.  And this day exists, when the Son is dead, and the Father, accordingly, inaccessible. ~ Hans Urs Von Balthasar (theologian and author)
Can you feel the terror of it?  Do you sense the incomprehensible void that stretches before us on this day?  What does it even mean?
Do not rush too quickly past this Holy Saturday on your way to the miracle.  You may miss the deepest part of the gratitude and joy that are to come.
Garden Tomb
The deepest gratitude and joy that come only when you understand what was absent, and understand that it was only for a day.

 

Art credits: Preparation of Christ’s Tomb by Vittore Carpaccio; Tomb of knight Philip Keerman in Flanders, Belgium; 1912 photograph of Jerusalem Garden Tomb by Dwight Lathrop Elmendorf; Side view of Garden Tomb by Deror Avi; Jerusalem Garden Tomb by Berthold Werner

I Cannot

I hate admitting that I cannot do something.  I have experienced quite a few tragedies that occurred because I was unable to swallow that thing inside of me that rises up and prevents me from asking for help.
clenched fist
The one notable exception is raising children.  I am all about seeking out advice when it comes to my children (which is its own problem because too much advice leads to indecision which invariably leads to paralysis).  This is not by any particular virtue of my own, rather it is because I am completely terrified of irreversibly messing up another human being.
Messing up my own life, however, is fine, because whatever the thing is, I can do it.
Even if I cannot.
This causes a definite problem, however, when it comes to my faith.  I want to be able to be good enough, to make myself righteous enough, to climb up the ladder and reach God all on my own.
Tower of Babel
I would have done well in Babel.
I want to do it myself so that I can then take credit.  I want to be proud of my own accomplishments.  I want, in short, to seek and worship myself.
Worshiping Self
God, however, is quite clear.  We can never rise up to Him, so He, in His infinite mercy, came down to us.  
Coming Down
This is folly and this is scandal.  It cannot be understood by our own reason and intelligence.  This is offensive.  It offends our pride to know that there is nothing for us to do.
God is too high and holy and our sin is too deep and depraved for us to be able to reach God.
Our souls become crippled and cramped by trying to rise to the highest height.  The end is despair, or a self-righteousness that leaves room neither for love of God nor for love of others. ~ Emil Brunner
It hurts as a crucifixion always does, but I must crucify myself and admit that I cannot reach God.  I cannot be good enough and I cannot make myself righteous.
So God descends to us at Christmas and finishes His descent on Good Friday.  What is His goal and where does He end His descent?  He ends where we belong.  In Hell.  Our rightful place is separation from God, which is hell, and God descends down to hell.
Fires
Jesus experiences our separation from God and despairs of loneliness from God so that we can be free of it.  He descends all the way down so that He can lift us out and reconcile us to God.  It is the only way.
Reconciliation
If the only way to receive God’s Spirit and nevermore to be separate from Him is to admit that I cannot do it, I will crucify my pride every single day and bow my head to the ground in worship and thanksgiving.
I will confess: I cannot.

Art Credits: Construction of the Tower of Babel painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt

Receiving Grace with Grace

This week’s post is the last guest post.  I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from some other talented and wise writers!  Next week you’ll be stuck with me again. :)  This essay was written by yet another old friend from my undergrad days at Harding University, Kelly Wiggains (known as Kelly Duncan back in the day).  I am grateful that we have kept in touch over the years, as she is not only a talented writer (she writes regularly about words, books and beauty over at kellywiggains.com. You should definitely head over and explore her blog…you’ll love it!  Go ahead and subscribe to receive her posts by email.  While I’m thinking about it, you can subscribe to receive mine as well.  Go on…I’ll wait…), but she is a wise and godly woman who is also a beautiful wife and momma.  I keep her around as a friend because she is incredibly intelligent and can give me much needed advice.  She’s also stinkin’ hilarious.  I’ll admit that I’m not sure why she keeps me around.  Enjoy her beautiful thoughts!

o is for open

Michael W. May via Compfight cc

“Before I tell you what happened, where are you?” my husband asked. I replied, “Well, I’m sitting in the McDonald’s parking lot. Starbucks was too cold.” One night a week, I spend a few hours all by myself outside of the house to go and write, and my husband watches the kids. On this unusually windy and cold night, I was about to spend my time of solitude in the local McDonald’s, indulging in some coffee and the free wifi.
My husband continued with his story. He and the kids were spending their evening with some Papa Murphy’s pizza and Star Wars (typical “Writing Night” fare) when someone rang the doorbell. Tyler opened up the door to an older man, standing on our front porch with a Christmas gift bag. The man smiled and said, “Tyler?” My husband replied, “Yes.” The man handed him the bag, offered a quick, “Merry Christmas,” and left. Tyler mumbled, “Merry Christmas to you,” in return and walked back into the house.
The package easily weighed five pounds, a deceptive weight in a decorative Christmas bag meant for a bottle of wine. Inside the bag, Tyler found a book, a letter, and a quart-sized mason jar filled with change and small bills. Our family just received a little Christmas miracle of almost $100.
All too often, I’ve heard sermons about the amazing power of being selfless, how giving of your time, effort, money, talents to other people in the name of God’s glory brings joy to your life. We hear about how we should approach those acts of kindness in humility, never letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing. We should give generously, only seeking praise for our Father and not for ourselves.
I’ve learned how to give with love and without expectation. However, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a sermon about how to receive an act of kindness. How should I accept someone else’s sacrifice? Have you ever accepted help with no way to repay that help? Have you ever been the recipient of truly unconditional love and sacrifice?
I’ve seen this kind of love and sacrifice tangibly, vividly in my life several times. As a teenager, my dad fought a battle with cancer for about a year. I can remember my church taking up a special collection for our family. I wept at the sight of my church family readily grabbing at their purses under the pew or digging in their coat pockets for their checkbook. Not long after that, our family received another stack of cash, collected from the merchants of my hometown. My dad sat on his hospital bed in shock before his sister said, “How many times have you thrown in $20 or $50 like that for someone else?” I remember watching this unfold as a teenager. I remember being humbled by it, feeling a sense of gratitude, yet I did not feel the true weight of the sacrifice because I had no idea about the concept of money.
Recently, my mom has been struggling with her own battle with cancer. In the past year, I’ve received cards in the mail from extended family with an unexpected check and a note of encouragement. We’ve only lived in our current city for about six months, yet I’ve had cash slipped into my hand after an embrace with a new friend at church. The only explanation? “A friend wanted me to give this to you. So you can go see your momma.”
Every day acts of sacrifice like this always point me to the The Cross. How much more is the sacrifice of our Father and his Son? Our Father allowed the sacrifice of His only Son to bring an avenue back to His people. Our Brother and Lord, Jesus, gave his life unselfishly for all of mankind. I’ve been taught about this sacrifice all of my life. The enormity of it only washes over me once in a while. Rarely, I can make a tangible connection to the unfathomable sacrifice of our God and his gift of grace to us. More than anything else this year, I’ve learned about the power of grace, unconditional love, and true generosity from normal, everyday, broken, amazing friends and family. There is nothing more humbling or more empowering than seeing this at work.

An Old Question, Part Two

May we continue our conversation from last week?
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”
~ Genesis 1.26
The first part of that amazing declaration is “Let us make”
We are created by God. We are part of God’s creation.
Along with the trees, mountains, birds and sun, we ARE God’s creation.
We humans, however, have a unique role that was given to us. A role that only we can fulfill.
We are (as far as we know!) the only creatures who can love God in return.
We are the only part of creation who can give voice to the wordless praise of all creation.
As Jeremy Begbie says in Resounding Truth,
In the human being, creation finds a conscious answering voice, a mortal from the dust of the earth who can know and respond to God’s love as a creature, love God in return, and as a part of this response, voice creation’s praise.
This is a beautiful picture and a beautiful role.
What grace that God entrusted this to us!
What tragedy that our role as worshiper in creation has twisted into worshiper of creation.
Including worshiper of self.
Oh.
Just as I have twisted my role as God’s representative, I have twisted my role of offering worship on behalf of all creation.
…disproportioned sin
Jarred against nature’s chime, and with harsh din
Broke the fair music that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion swayed
In perfect diapason, whilst they stood
In first obedience, and their state of good.
~ John Milton “At a Solomn Music”

However.
What a beautiful word, “however”.
God gave us grace through Christ.
Jesus. Man. God.
A man who gave complete and un-distracted praise to God.
A man who acted out God’s wise rule in the world.
He is our worship to God ~ perfect praise from us to God, creation’s perfect voice.
He is the image of God to us ~ perfect representation of God, being a wise steward of the earth, He brought healing, restoration, hope and peace from God to earth.
Jesus helped and healed many people, like this. He made blind people see. He made deaf people hear. He made lame people walk. Jesus was making the sad things come untrue. He was mending God’s broken world. ~ Jesus Storybook Bible
The most exciting part of this gift, this grace? We are invited to join Him!
As Begbie says,
Our privilege is to find our true place in the world, to be conformed by the Spirit to Christ (II Corinthians 3.18) so we can start to be true image bearers ourselves, reflecting the covenant love of God to the world…In Christ through the Spirit we can recover our calling as God’s image bearers, as the people of God exercising wise stewardship. This is part of authentic “spiritual worship” (Romans 12.1).
What joy! What grace! What gift!
By reflecting God’s image to the world around us, to the tiny piece of creation (human and non-human) in which God has placed us, we are voicing the praise of creation back to God.
What a beautiful circle.
*paintings are Christ and Samaritan by Henryk Siemiradzki and Christ Healing the Blind Man by Eustache Le Sueur

Take My Life


I am honored and pleased to be writing over at (in)courage today!

Please join me there.

If you have never stopped in to visit (in)courage, it is a site that hopes to be a part of the journey of growing in relationship with God and in community with others.

This will take the place of my regular Friday post this week. See you next Friday!