Our Sacrifices

My dad always told me that life was full of doing things that I didn’t want to do. There was never any hope, really, that he’d be wrong so much as a slow, sad realization of just how right he was.

Every morning when I wake up, my heart’s sincerest desire is to go back to sleep. That’s what I want to do, but what I have to do is get up and go to work. I have to go to work to pay for things I need, like a car, or for benefits that I have to have, like health insurance. I sacrifice what I want for what’s best for me. They are sacrifices I make as a commitment to my survival. (Note: This commitment is also why I am working on a zombie apocalypse plan.)

When I think of people who’ve sacrificed what they wanted for their commitments, no one stands out more to me than Jesus. After the Last Supper, Jesus and the disciples “…left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives. There he told them, ‘Pray that you will not give in to temptation.’ He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine’” (Luke 22:39-42, NLT).

We often talk about the physical sacrifice Jesus made for us, but we never talk about what He gave up mentally and emotionally in His commitment to us. We don’t talk about this part enough.

This is one of Jesus’ most human moments. We see where His desire and God’s desire do not match. Jesus knew what was coming – Roman soldiers beating Him, His dying body being tortured while on display for others. He also knew He was leaving the disciples, whom He loved very much. Think about it: Jesus was fully human; yes, He was also God, but He was human. He attached to people the same way we do. He had memories and feelings. He knew what was coming, but that doesn’t mean He wasn’t scared or upset about it. His time on this Earth with His loved ones was ending, and since that’s not easy for any other human, it wouldn’t have been easy for Him. As much as He loved everyone, as much as He wanted to be our salvation, and as committed as He was to us and our eternities, we can see how difficult it was for Him. Jesus had to make sacrifices, and some of them were incredibly superhuman, but others were as human as possible, as human as not wanting to leave His friends, as human as not wanting to die.

So what’s the point in me writing all of this or you reading it?

If you remember nothing else I write in this post, remember this: Everyone must make sacrifices for their commitments, and nothing is wrong with you for not wanting to sacrifice something.

Sacrifice, by definition, is the opposite of fun. We lose or destroy something we like for something else. You’re not giving up something you don’t like or don’t want because that wouldn’t mean anything.

What are we sacrificing for? Because that’s where our commitment is.

When I was younger, I wanted to be really good at playing basketball. So I played it every afternoon after school at my grandma’s house with my brother. I listened to him tell me what I needed to get better at. We stayed outside until it was too dark to see the goal or until my mom came to pick us up. I watched it on television. I was committed to basketball, so I spent my time and energy on it.

One of things I do in my free time is go to concerts. I spend money on tickets and save up money to spend on merchandise. I’ve probably already spent time with the songs of the performers and memorized the lyrics or the sounds at that point. I talk about my attendance on social media and watch and share YouTube videos of the groups. I’ll work my schedule around the show. I lose sleep to go to concerts. (One time, I went to a show that started – yes, began – at 10:00 pm because it was a small band I like that’s based out of Chicago, and I didn’t know when or if they’d ever come to North Carolina again.) I sacrifice a lot to do this, and in doing so, I am committed to this.

Do we do that for God? Do we give up money in pursuit of Him? Do we sacrifice our time and energy for Him? Do we do what He tells us, even when it’s the last thing we want to do?

It starts with realizing that God wouldn’t ask anything of us without reason or without helping us through it. That in combination with the fact that there is no greater pursuit or reward that a relationship with our Creator who is faithful and loving beyond measure. He’s worthy of our commitment, of course, but the rewards we receive for our sacrifices to Him are unreal. If you don’t believe me, try it. Put forth the extra steps and the effort to invest more in your relationship with God. You’ll wish you’d done it sooner.

By Carrie Prevette

Come, Follow

The most difficult thing about life after earning my degree in English with one minor being in Literature has been reading.

Well, the difficulty is really in dealing with the first couple of days after I finish a book I enjoy. I realize now that a lot of what I loved about my classes as an English student were the discussions, whether they were about books already in existence or stories that were being written. And at the time, everyone in the class was reading the same material, so we were all literally (or at least we were supposed to be) on the same page. And we would talk about themes and what scenes we thought were important or what our feelings or thoughts about certain parts were. It was very nice to have an outlet like that for all of the emotions I felt when I finished reading a book or story or poem. And now that I’m not surrounded by people who read the same books as me, that outlet is gone, and I miss book discussions more than any normal person could understand.

I remember when I was a senior in high school, my AP English teacher, Mrs. Taylor, told the class that if we could find proof in the text of whatever we were reading, we could argue that point. And that was when I first began to love book discussions.

What makes the story of the rich, young ruler in Mark 10 so fascinating is that we don’t have a lot to go on in terms of how he actually was, so we have to go by his actions, which can be interpreted differently. I’ve read this story before and totally disliked this guy. I’ve also read this story before and felt sympathetic towards him. I want to do something a little crazy here and look at this scripture while assuming the best of him. This is in part because I think it’s too easy to see him as a bad guy when evidence may suggest he’s not all bad and because it almost makes the end result a little sadder.

Mark 10:17-18 (NLT) reads, “As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus asked. ‘Only God is truly good.’”
Each of the four Gospels has a different theme, or rather, they each provide a different lens through which to see Jesus. In Mark, which is also the oldest of the Gospels, Jesus is a mysterious figure who doesn’t broadcast his status as the Son of God.

One could argue that the young man had heard of Jesus and how He did all these crazy, miraculous things and thought, “Hey, I’ll it a shot. He seems like he knows some stuff,” and Jesus called him out on it. But the fact that the guy knelt after he ran to Jesus shows that he needs answers and that he’s serious. Since crowds seem to have been common back in those days and Jesus wasn’t exactly shouting, “I’m the Messiah!” through a megaphone, there’s a possibility that the man could’ve discerned who Jesus was or at least believed whatever he had heard about Him.

Mark continues to write and Jesus continues to speak in verse 19, “’But to answer your question, you know the commandments: “You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.”’
‘Teacher,’ the man replied, ‘I’ve obeyed all of these commandments since I was young.’”

This is where we start to dislike the guy, right? We call him arrogant or a liar. We think he’s too proud. Maybe he’s all or none of these things, but since I’m assuming the best of this guy right now, let’s say he was being honest. Maybe a little hurried or even rude to move the conversation along by declaring such a thing, but still.

Of course, that’s not the real point here. It’s what we get caught up on, but what this implies combined with how he feels is what’s really important. There’s nothing in the scripture that specifically says that the young man felt validated by Jesus telling him to follow the commandments. He doesn’t start to walk off, shouting over his shoulder a thanks to Jesus for proving him right or anything. If the ruler had thought that his mission was complete, he would’ve been happy and left. I would say that him sticking around was because he knew there was more to it. From a religious standpoint, the Mosaic Law was king in Jerusalem at this point in time. It was taught, preached, and attempted to be followed. So by searching Jesus for eternal life even after claiming he followed the commandments, the young ruler was saying that there was more to salvation than a religious checklist or rule book.

Verses 21-22 read, “Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. ‘There is still one thing you haven’t done,’ he told him. ‘Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

It all dwindles down to this one point. Regardless of how moral, desperate, or proud this guy may or may not have been, whether he was awful like we often think or a pretty decent person like we’ve tried to see him as throughout this post, this moment is important and final. Jesus tells him to sell his stuff, donate the money to the poor, and follow him.

And this man, who not one minute earlier was in hot pursuit of eternal life, walks away from it.

It’s not about the man’s ability to follow commandments or how much stuff he has to sell. If so, Jesus would require these things of all His followers, and problem children like myself would never get the chance to enter heaven. It was about the young ruler’s heart and how committed he was.

The young ruler was more committed to his possessions and money than he was to God and eternal life. And he was honest about it. He didn’t hide behind a smile or say, ”You got it, Jesus,” and then never follow through with it. He left Jesus knowing that this commitment would never happen.

We’re always quick to judge the rich, young ruler, to chuckle or scoff at him as he walks off with his head hung low, but this scripture acts like a mirror for me. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve ran to God in desperation only to not commit to Him in the end. He’ll tell me to pray more or be more kind to others or to invest more time and energy into my relationship with Him, and I might do it for a few days, but then I’ll stop. I’m more committed to sleeping or my bitterness or some other small thing that simply does not compare to God.

And Jesus looks at me, at all of us, with the same genuine love He looked at that rich, young ruler with.

Unlike the young ruler, I don’t want to just give up on God. I know that all the actual work for my salvation was done by the Godhead, but maintaining a relationship with God falls fully on me. It’s a matter of how committed I am because God is faithful even when I’m not, and He is good and loving to me even when I’m not to Him.

By Carrie Prevette

Devoted

Back when Israel was ruled by judges, there was a famine, and a man named Elimelech moved from Bethlehem in Judah to Moab with his wife, Naomi, and his two sons. After settling into Moab, Elimelech died. Both sons married, and both wives were Moabite women. Roughly a decade later, the sons died.

At this point, Naomi was pretty much alone,  not having a husband or kids around, and she heard that life in Judah was good again. So she and her daughter-in-laws packed up and headed to Judah. But on the way, Naomi told them to return to their mothers, speaking blessings over them for their kindness. They said they didn’t want to, but Naomi told them to return as she was out of sons for them to marry. One kissed her goodbye, but the other did not.

“But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi…. [She] replied, ‘Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!’ When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more” (Ruth 1:14, 16-18, NLT).

I kept thinking about a scripture for the New Year blog post, and I kept coming back to two scriptures, one being this one from Ruth.

The devotion Ruth demonstrated towards Naomi is one that we as humans often reserve for other humans.

And trust me, I am the last person who needs to be talking about this and the first who needs to hear it. I pre-order albums by bands I like without having heard a single note or lyric because I just really like the band. I’ll watch a movie or a show just because I adore an actor who plays in it. And I’d rather not even think of how much money I’ve spent on shirts and jerseys of certain teams or players. I understand – probably better than anyone – this weird sense of an almost sacred devotion to other people.

Unlike my devotion, which is probably more pathetic than anything else, Ruth’s devotion was hopeful and encouraging. I don’t know what Ruth’s relationship with her own mother was like, but we have no reason to believe it wasn’t good. Given how loving and kind Ruth was, I’m inclined to think her mother was the same way. So Ruth’s devotion to Naomi was strong because she chose her over someone else she loved.

What’s really remarkable about Ruth staying with Naomi was that she was a Moabite leaving Moab. Everyone regarded Moabites with disdain. They were seen as barbaric and dirty and awful. Their lineage is traced back to when Lot left Sodom and his daughters conceived with him. They had a history of being oppressive enemies of the Israelites for a very long time. Ruth was taking a big step in leaving both a place that was familiar and free of prejudice towards her. She was really leaving her comfort zone.

In this new year, whether you’re glad it’s here or are starting it with a feeling of hopelessness, we can all aspire to have Ruth’s devotion, but instead of directing it towards another person, we should demonstrate it towards God.

I know it’s hard to choose God over something else. I’m not going to act like it’s not. It’s a product of the fall of man. We naturally want to put people and things that we can see and touch and immediately and definitely behold the greatness of above a God we sometimes have to look for and who doesn’t always lead us to such seemingly great places.

But we can step out of that fondness and familiarity, that sense of happiness and safety, and step into a deeper understanding and a deeper relationship with God. Not because the year is new, but because it’s a time when there’s a big sense of starting over and betterment. It’s a good thing to start at any time.

The other scripture I kept coming back to was John 10:10, where Jesus says, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (NLT).

But I’m a big fan of the NRSV translation of this verse, which says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”

This is where your love and devotion to God lead you – rich, satisfying, life abundant. Oh, it’s challenging, but anything worth having is. Life abundant never comes easy, but it’s certainly a reward worth fighting for. And with God, it’s a guarantee.

By Carrie Prevette

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