How Much Sacrifice is Enough?

Moving to a new country and new culture is full of surprises. One surprise for me when I moved to Southeast Asia was that every single temple is filled with idols. There is not just one idol per temple.

We once visited a temple which, when literally translated, is called “The Temple of 80,000 Idols.” It was in a part of the country that we hadn’t visited before. We were tourists there and able to take pictures freely. The temple was full of idols, tiny idols and small idols, medium-sized and giant. There were very, very old idols, some made of stone, some made of gold, some made of plaster and clay. Each idol is a reminder of a god whose desire for sacrifice is never satisfied. The temple itself represents a religion of fear.

We walked through the dark stone halls of the temple, with idols inset in every wall, nook, and cranny. The hall opened up to a larger chamber with a 20-foot high gold idol in the center, surrounded by LED lights, flowers, and gifts of fruit.

Idolatry is a religion of more. It is a religion with an appetite that is never satisfied and a thirst that is never quenched. Whatever sacrifice you give to idols will never be enough.

Seeing the idols in another culture revealed the idols in my own. Why are Americans so dissatisfied, always seeking but never finding purpose, always looking, always consuming more? Why are we full of anxiety, stress, depression, and disconnection?

Could it be that we are restless and dissatisfied because we are offering our lives to idols instead of giving our worship to the Living God?

God provides true peace and rest. Satisfaction and peace can only be obtained through relationship with the Living God. As Christians, we “abide” in God’s love. We do not earn it or strive for it. Our salvation is a gift that we accept in gratitude and thanksgiving.

So we ask ourselves: are our lives at peace, or are we always striving for something more? Even as cross-cultural workers, we must ask ourselves these questions. What consumes me? What consumes my time, energy, money, devotion, and dedication? What part of my life is never satisfied and never at peace? What sacrifices am I making to idols that are robbing my life of purpose, peace, joy, and unity with God?

We have to ask ourselves if we, too, have sacrificed at the feet of idols who refuse to be satisfied. When will we seek the True God who can provide the purpose and peace our hearts long for, and that our daily lives so desperately need? When will our devotion lead to fulfillment and peace?

Even as a missionary, I can at times be tempted to think God is satisfied by my sacrifices. After all, I have sacrificed for Him. God has called me to that sacrifice, and it pleases Him. I have gone up to the mountain of the Lord holding on to my small faith and His big promises. But it is His sacrifice for me that brings me into a peaceful, fulfilling relationship with the Living God.

The familiar story of Abraham offering Isaac is often told from the perspective of Abraham, a loving father who is willing to obey God no matter the cost, even if that means offering up his one son. And that is true and part of the story.

But the story’s hero is not Abraham. The hero is Jehovah Jireh: “the God Who Provides.” In this story, God has already revealed himself to Abraham, but Abraham still doesn’t exactly know what kind of god is the Lord?

Is God a god like the Canaanite god of the Ammonites, Molech, who will demand child sacrifice by fire for his wrath to be appeased? Can God be appeased for now? Will he ask for more later?

Will he be like Baal, who demands more and more, always upping the ante and requiring stranger offerings, more and more dedicated signs of devotion?

Or is YHWH different? Different from the demons the people have known in the past? Different from the idols?

Who is this God that is calling Abraham? Who is the God who is asking Abraham to put his faith in Him?

God is the God who is satisfied not by our sacrifice but by His sacrifice for us.

Abraham climbs up the mountain and prepares to sacrifice. But as Abraham raises his arm, knife in hand, to take the life of his son, the angel of the Lord stops him. And in this moment, we see that God is the God who provides the sacrifice that saves our life and brings us into a relationship of peace with him.

Worshiping the true God will provide us satisfaction and peace. God does require us to sacrifice, but he has already paid the price in full. We do not work to appease God; instead, full satisfaction is found as we accept the full love God offers to us.

As God called Abraham, God has called us. We must continue to offer our small faith. We must continue to cling to His big promises. But we must remember: it is God who is the hero of our story, too. He is the one who provides. He is the one who satisfies. And it is His sacrifice for us that will always be enough.

As we work across languages and cultures to share His love and bring Him glory, we remember that we are enough because His sacrifice is enough. We have peace and fulfillment because He has provided the sacrifice for us. Truly, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

I am a Foreign Weirdo

by Julie Jean Francis

Editor’s Note:  Last year I had the privilege of reading Julie’s new book, Bowing Low: Rejecting the Idols Around Us to Worship the Living God. She consistently made me think about cultural issues through a biblical lens. I thought I had already begun that process, but Julie took my hand and led me even deeper into it. As she demonstrates in the book, the potential for idolatry is truly everywhere in modern society. The excerpt below discusses expatriate living more broadly, but in reality if we give up our idols to worship the one true God, we will be “foreign weirdos” anywhere we go.  ~Elizabeth Trotter

Being an alien and stranger is no fun. Ask me about it. Everywhere we go, people stare at us. They grab at us to touch our skin and hair. They unashamedly point and stare at us in public. They sometimes treat us like royalty, bestowing on us white privilege exceptions, treats, and favors. Other times we are treated with disdain and suspicion, like scientific specimens or exotic animals at a zoo to be examined and prodded.

They ask to take pictures of us since seeing aliens is admittedly an unusual, noteworthy experience. I sometimes think the attention we get is because of our (many) cute kids. But the other day I was in the grocery store alone and it happened. Assuming I didn’t speak the local language (which I do), a young woman and man came up to me motioning awkwardly with their hands that they wanted a picture with me. I hardly go anywhere without at least one kid with me, so I was so surprised it took me a while to figure out what was happening.

Then, I realized what I should have already known– I am an alien and stranger here. People like to document and share their alien encounters. They wanted a picture with me. Who knows if they may ever see an extraterrestrial again?

I stood still, and they took my picture right there in the diaper aisle. Then, I shocked them again by speaking to them in the local language, politely answering their questions–- where did I come from? How long have I lived here? What work do I do? Do I have a family?

The only thing weirder than seeing an alien is seeing an alien who speaks your language and lives among you.

Some of our alien experiences are more pleasant than others. Sometimes, complete strangers somehow get pictures of our kids and then use those pictures as their profile photo on Facebook (that really happened). Sometimes, people are really rude and pushy and don’t take no for an answer when we tell them that we don’t want our picture taken, or that our kids don’t want to be poked, pinched, or held by complete strangers. Sometimes, people whom we have no memory of meeting know exactly where we live, how many kids we have, and where my husband works.

Being an alien stranger is difficult.

It’s impossible to have privacy as an alien and stranger or to keep anything a secret. Everything you do, everything you buy, every mannerism, every interaction is recorded in the memory of the community like the odd, unusual, noteworthy, rarity that it is. People remember their extraterrestrial experiences. It’s hard to constantly be the weirdo that people remember.

I’m in most ways the opposite of “normal” here.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to be. I understand contextualization. I’ve studied crossing borders and becoming all things to all men, that I might win some.

I have worked hard to learn the language. I can read the difficult script (even if my writing is admittedly terrible). I can carry on a conversation, and I get my meaning across despite my many mistakes.

I wear local clothes most of the time. I can wrap the skirt like the locals, wear the typical shoes, and take them off at the right times. I know what is modest here and what isn’t. I wear real gold earrings because any respectable woman does.

I buy my food from the market. I have even learned to cook the local way, and I eat rice (almost) as much as local people do.

I have come to understand, respect, and even uphold a lot of local ideals and beliefs. Things that upset me about the culture when I first entered it now make sense in ways that are hard for me to explain to fellow Americans.

I know about the seasonal calendar. About religious festivals and customs. I can sense the change of seasons and even feel the hope and excitement in the air when religious holidays are near.

Our house is typical. Our furnishings are modest and simple. Besides the ridiculous number of toys and books our kids have, we could almost pass for locals.

So why am I still so opposite? Why didn’t the “veil” between us lower quicker? Why aren’t my best efforts at practicing “incarnational ministry” paying off and producing fast fruit?

No matter what I do, how I live, how I speak or dress— will it ever be “enough?” Is all the effort even worth it? Will I always be a foreign weirdo?

I remind myself that God always intended His people to be called out and set apart. Noah, perhaps, is the very first example of a truly called out person, living in a wicked time, but remaining true to the God who was instructing him down a strange path. He was faithful despite his culture and despite the absurdity of God’s call on his life.

Abraham, the father of our faith, is called out and asked to move to a place he didn’t know, to trust God and do what God said despite the uncertainty. He was both called out from his culture and from his family, leaving his parents and most of his extended relatives behind. He was called to live in tents, traveling around, being a nomad for God.

Being called out means hearing the voice of God interrupting your life. God’s voice usually interrupts your life’s plans and gives you a new set of directives to follow. And the plans usually sound crazy to most of the people around you.

God calls Moses from a burning bush and changes his life’s course. Later God calls His people out of Egypt asking them to trust Him to lead them to a Promised Land. They are repeatedly told to be holy, be set apart, to not assimilate to the idol-worshipping nations around them. They are called to be holy because God is holy, and they are God’s people.

God always reminds them that He didn’t call them because they are better than everyone else, but because He had mercy on them. Because He is loving and merciful. Not because they did anything at all to earn His favor. They are called out to follow His voice, to move their tents when He moves and to stay when He stays. They worship God using a tent “Tabernacle” in the desert, with no permanent place to worship God. Through all this, God teaches them that He will go with them.

So I am content to be an alien and a stranger here. I am a foreign weirdo who may never fit in completely. But I am confident in my calling, and I trust that God is with me wherever I go. There are differences between me and the people I serve – so many differences – but I believe God will use those differences to build His Kingdom and show the world the great love of Christ, a love that has no bounds and no ethnic affiliation.

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Julie Jean Francis is the author of Bowing Low: Rejecting the Idols Around Us to Worship the Living God. She has lived as an alien and stranger in Southeast Asia since 2012 among a large, unreached people group (less than 1% Christian) with her only teammate and husband of 14 years. Together they raise their many Third Culture Kids. She likes drinking tea, ministering to children, and talking about loneliness, the power of the Word, and the faithfulness of God in hard times. You can find her online here.

Are You Tired?

by Julie Francis

Have you ever wanted to quit? Give up? Throw in the towel? Throw up your hands? Walk out the door?

Are you tired? Tired of turning the other cheek? Putting others before yourself? Praying for your enemies? Blessing those who curse you?

Are you weary? From stress? Obligation? Conflict? Boredom? Same old/same old?

Are you sick of falling back into your old patterns? Stalled progress? Lack of results? Not seeing the fruit from your hard work?

Are you exhausted from lack of sleep? From depression? From difficult living conditions? From days on end without a Sabbath and no break in sight?

Do you wonder if you will make it out alive? Wonder how high the price will be? The amount you’ll have to pay? Who or what you will have to sacrifice?

Have you had it with giving things up? Saying goodbye (again)? Moving? Transitioning? Not having a home, connection, deep roots?

Are your tired of waiting for the blessing God promised? Is this the “full life” you expected?

Is it all… worth it?

Staring through the bars of a prison cell doesn’t seem like a very full life. Chained in filthy conditions. Little food. Forget the comforts of home. Yet, Paul wrote these words in confidence:

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

Your purpose in life isn’t to be comfortable. The world has lied to you. Your purpose in life isn’t to store up treasures on earth. The world has lied to you. Your purpose in life isn’t to do what makes you happy. The world has lied to you.

Your purpose in life is to please the Spirit. You will gain everlasting life! So, don’t give up.

By God’s grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the joy and peace that come from being united in Jesus in his suffering and death– you can learn to be content no matter your circumstances. You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. You can rejoice in your sufferings. You can know with certainty that what has happened to you will turn out for your deliverance. And that God works all things for good for those who love him.

Are you tired? Worn out? Bored? Apathetic? Sick of doing good? Exhausted from suffering? Are you about to fall under the weight of the cross God has asked you to carry?

Don’t give up. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your Spirit. Amen.

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Julie Francis has lived as an alien and stranger in Southeast Asia for seven years and counting among a large, unreached people group (less than 1% Christian) with her only teammate and husband of 13 years. Together they raise their five Third Culture Kids. She likes drinking tea, ministering to children, and talking about loneliness, the power of the Word, and the faithfulness of God in hard times.