Sacrifice is good but obedience is better.
When I first wrote that line I believed it. As I dwell on it I must confess there is developing in me a blatant, lip curling, one eye brow raised gut reaction. That funny face is because as God works on my heart the good/ better comparison to the two is melting like butter in the hot Texas sun. Here’s two quick personal stories I’d love to share with you about the subject. For those of you that have seen pieces of these stories on Facebook and Instagram please keep reading as I unpack my thoughts. He’s really been working on me in this area. Maybe you too have been here. Lets walk this path together. Sacrifice is good but obedience is better.
I’ve owned this car for 8 years now, and it was cheap when I bought it. I’ve driven it back and forth to work and, much to the chagrin of my middle school aged children, even gone through the school pick up line in it. The paint is faded and there is a crack in the windshield. The dome light flickers sometimes and none of the outlets work to re-charge my cell phone anymore. However, it has been paid off for years and been very reliable. I drive this and resist financing a newer vehicle, even if it would make my kids less embarrassed when I beep the horn to get their attention after school. Don’t I deserve a new car? Even though this little car turns their faces a cute pinkish hue (which I’m mostly cool with by the way), it is my lack of vanity that has provided for them. I am willing to sacrifice this status symbol of a successful 39 year old man so that my family can have a few extras. I tell myself that my need to drive a sporty mid size SUV can be put on the back burner, and feel all the prouder for my perceived counter cultural sacrifice. After all isn’t this what dads do? Sacrifice is good but obedience is better.
25 years ago, I was a freshman in high school. In September when school started I picked these shoes to wear for the school year.
My parents weren’t wealthy but we served an upper middle class neighborhood as their pastor family. My dad, despite having a masters degree, didn’t make much money. My siblings and I were on free or reduced lunch all through high school but new school shoes were a huge thing. Possibly some other time I can unpack what that means to a young kid like me. I waited till the other children had gone through the line so that I didn’t have to tell the lunch lady in front of all my friends. She would pull out a little plastic box that had index cards on it with a list of kids names that were in the same predicament, and then bark “40 cents”. I couldn’t shrink fast enough. Our school and neighborhood were 98% white but my family was mixed with many races represented. I am the oldest of 6 and we fostered many young children when I was school aged. We’d off load from a 15 passenger van and 8 or so children would get out - black, bi-racial, hispanic, Israeli, and some white. Truly a sight to behold I’m sure for the community we lived in. I showed up the first day of soccer practice proudly wearing my new Fila’s. I was laughed at for months and was given the nickname....you guessed it Fila. It stuck for years with the older kids and was never meant as a term of endearment. It was a reminder that I didn’t fit in with them. I was completely outside all the marketing and hadn’t picked them because I had seen a celebrity endorsement, or a TV commercial or even other kids sporting them. I simply liked them on the shelf and they were in my families limited budget. I never gave a thought that it would leave such an impression on the other kids. I never even thought that they would care at all what I wore.
My parents are talented , educated , dedicated and hard working. But they sacrificed themselves and their material desires for not only their children but for 60 some odd foster children along the way. And here is the crusher...THEY DID IT WITH JOY! We didn’t do without and my parents instilled in me the privilege of sacrifice and the joy of giving. I’m still in part that 14 year old boy that is now heading to Africa. Sacrifice is good but obedience is better…or so I thought.
Sacrifice is not even in the same category as obedience as far as I’m concerned. When I wrote that line I was reading I Samuel and King Saul’s story of losing the kingship.
Then Samuel said,
Do you think all God wants are sacrifices—
empty rituals just for show?
He wants you to listen to him!
Plain listening is the thing,
not staging a lavish religious production.
Not doing what God tells you
is far worse than fooling around in the occult.
Getting self-important around God
is far worse than making deals with your dead ancestors.
Because you said No to God’s command,
he says No to your kingship.
1 Samuel 15 (msg)
When Jesus show up on the scene He said this to a large crowd of people in Mark 8
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?
When I make a sandwich out of these thoughts, with my heart being the gooey concord grape and peanut butter mixture, sacrifice falls so fast down the ladder I’m almost ashamed of myself. In the stories I told you about myself ask yourself what are they about. I asked myself the same question. You know what answer first comes to mind? The are about ME! Even when I write to you about my childhood and enormous examples of sacrifice, which make no mistake are good, I make sacrifice about me. I can’t get out of my way in making sacrifice honor me. Even as I write this now, I’m reminded of dozens of stories of tragedy overcome through sacrifice. Stories of grit, determination, pulling ourselves up by the boot straps all weave tales of sacrifice that end with victory. And we call these “feel good “ movies because that is exactly how them make us feel. When I see others sacrifice I think to myself “ they are such great people”, and I’m sure we all do that sort of thing to some extent. Sacrifice is a process that uniquely honors me on the way to a goal, even if it is not my intent. We are wired to feel good about our level of sacrifice and the secondary gains that come from it. It is what keeps us benevolent. If I am being honest and speaking with vulnerability here, my sacrifice honors me because I will never let my self go to the depths of sacrifice that actually hurt me more than I am willing despite the nobility of the prize I am reaching for. There I said it! I won’t give until it actually hurts me or costs me dearly. At the bottom of my sacrifice I still expect self preservation to prevail. Sacrifice is good obedience is better.
But when I contemplate obedience I remember Jesus’s words in Mark “You’re not in the drivers seat ‘ I am.”. Jesus has taught me that obedience isn’t greater than sacrifice but rather obedience always looks like sacrifice. Obedience is my “Jesus take the wheel” spirit that calls me to sacrifice greater than I could ever expect of myself. Obedience accomplishes His priorities and reminds me how petty I am to think that the things I possess were ever mine in the first place. Obedience is the kryptonite to self preservation because it require us “to take up our cross” and to do it daily. Obedience reminds me that when I complain about kids making fun of my shoes and eating reduced lunch, to ask myself ‘what kind of shoes did my Dad wear?’. He told me once. They were appropriate mid 80’s wing tips that he had for a long time. They had been through many soles and hundreds of official duties. He never thought each year to buy himself shoes and my selfish freshman self never asked why not. When my heart turns there and remembers softly what I think was his sacrifice…..He reminds me…..no my son, that was obedience.
Obedience calls me to sell the Barry Farm. Obedience drives me to let go of my safe career. Obedience beckons me deeper in to the Bible and His word. Obedience calls us to move to the 3rd ward in the third largest city in the country. Obedience calls me to trust Him with our kids as we move around the world. Obedience calls me to share our story to everyone that will listen. Obedience provided the sacrifice that saves my soul. Obedience made a way where there wasn’t one. Obedience asks you now to join us in the fight. Obedience now invites you to join the body of Christ around the globe. Are you with me?
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