Yes, It's true...but we'll get to that in a minute.
I've been thinking a lot about sacrifice. It comes up frequently during Lent. God gave his only son for us. We sacrifice by giving up something at Lent in honor of Christ's sacrifice. We also give up time and energy to put extra attention to our spiritual lives during the weeks leading up to Easter. The Apostle Paul goes so far as to tell us that the whole point of our faith is for our entire lives to be a Living Sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
But I also see the idea of sacrifice being distorted and even abused. Politicians backed by huge corporations send teenagers off to war, making decisions with their lives from behind a desk, only to financially benefit from their sacrifice. Families leave Cinderella in the coal cellar while the other siblings live lives of comfort and ease. Churches beg for 'sacrificial giving' so they can put a $4 million fish tank in their church. (Don't get me started that piece of hypocrisy).
There are beautiful examples of sacrifice. People marry, have/adopt a child, take in a stray (person or animal), stay at home for the kids. Each of these will require sacrifice of some sort.
How do we sort out the difference between loving someone unconditionally and 'lost puppy syndrome' in which you 'take on a project' and are convinced that you can change a person by your own willpower and sacrifice?
Here's what I've come up with so far:
Sacrifice without love is oppression. Someone who is made to give everything while others give nothing is being oppressed. To paraphrase a well-known writer, whenever you hear someone call for a sacrifice, better see who is asking to receive it. Imagine if you forced a woman work against her will as long, hard and completely as your mother willingly did for you. Without love, it's oppression. With love, it's one of the most beautiful forms of love in the universe.
Love without sacrifice is infatuation. All of us have had a crush on someone only to have it fade when we realized the person isn't perfect (except Denzel Washington, of course - we all know he IS perfect).
Love results in sacrifice, but sacrifice doesn't result in love. This is where we get to the lost puppy syndrome. I've seen many people get into relationships because the other person 'needed' them. Even the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, had an unhappy marriage because he 'fell in love' with his nurse while he was sick. He needed her. Once he was well, however, they couldn't find a way to be happy together because Wesley was all about his calling, not staying at home in bed. The bitterness was a drain on both of them.
Back to my story...I dated a 'project' not a person. It was not right for either one of us. He had become a Christian, and I thought he needed me. I was willing to sacrifice the rest of my life for that person to have a better life. But at the ripe age of 18, I wasn't even my own person yet, let alone able to give up my future for another. When I fell in love with Ken, I realized the difference between the two kinds of 'love'. One was love, the other was the 'lost puppy syndrome' (You can thank my old youth group leader for the name).
Now there is nothing wrong with rescuing a few (actual) puppies in your lifetime. In fact, I recommend it. But our sacrificing comes from our love, not the other way around. When your life consists of hand to mouth survival, a new puppy isn't the wisest choice to make.
John 3:16 tells us that God loved, so God gave. Love first, giving springing from that.
Why has this been on my mind? Because as a church, we have a vision for people that is worthy of our sacrifice. But I want that sacrifice to spring from our abundance of love in Christ, our overflowing love for the one who is the source of life itself. That's the only way this can work.
I hope during this season of Lent you will cultivate your love for Christ more fully and more deeply as we learn what it means to truly love unconditionally.
Sometimes people will ask me if something is sinful or not. Is it wrong to smoke? Should I go see that movie? (You know which one I'm talking about.) Sometimes they expect a long tirade about the evils of the world. Sometimes they want to justify their choices. Either way they look to me to pronounce judgment on a behavior.
Many of those behaviors, however, fall into the category of personal convictions. Personal convictions are just that - things we believe we personally should not do. But our neighbor doesn't necessarily agree nor feels guilt if he partakes in the activity.
All too often we then proceed to judge the person who feels comfortable doing something that we don't.
I have found that a different way of thinking about this is by using the words helpful or not helpful. Is something sinful? Not sure. Is it helpful? Certainly not. That solves a lot of these issues without resorting to judging or over-generalizing.
The apostle Paul taught us that the freedom to do something doesn't mean it’s wise to do it.
1 Cor 10:23 You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial.
Will going out with your girlfriends who like to bash their husbands be helpful? If your marriage is strong, it probably won't hurt. If your marriage is struggling, then do yourself a favor and run the other direction. Will the extra glass of wine with a co-worker be helpful to your relationship or your ability to drive? Will dessert be helpful for your waistline?
I think there are two extremes we would do well to avoid...
1. Walking around in constant fear of offending God as if he were our great aunt whose sensibilities were regularly violated by the stain of the world.
2. Assuming that just because everyone else is doing something, it’s okay for you. Something that is benign for your friend might be harmful for you.
This is why we always come back to relationships. These issues get worked out in relationship - with God and spiritual friends. As you walk with God, you will learn to discern what your personal convictions are. And you will learn what things might be allowed, but not helpful.