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Unequal Exchange

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

September 6, 2017

Without a Death, There Can Be No Resurrection

The Rich and the Kingdom of God

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

When people read this story, most emphasize the harshness of the requirements of Jesus of this outstanding young man who has lived such an exemplary life, but easily miss the small and simple sentence: “Jesus looked at him and loved him”.

That makes all the difference. What motivated Jesus was not impossibly high standards and harsh perfectionism, but love. He knew what was in the rich young ruler’s heart, and didn’t want his money, or his good deeds. He didn’t separate good deeds into different levels of sacrifice like levels in video games. No, he saw the attachments in the young man’s heart, and wanted him free of those attachments to give wholly of his heart. Jesus wants our hearts, not our money, righteous deeds, or extravagant sacrifices.

There are times in our lives when Jesus invites us to make exchanges with him. This is something He loves to do. In the past, I have often viewed these invitations as painful, because I didn’t know Him that well back then. Now, I relish the pain of relinquishment whenever these invitations come up, because I inevitably pry my fingers off something that I have developed an unhealthy degree of love for, usually surpassing my healthy love of Jesus and family, in order to have the proper order of love restored in my heart of hearts. Those exchanges have usually turned out to be unbelievably profitable for me, because what He gives me in return is always much better than what I have such a hard time giving up at the time.

Early this morning, I was lying in bed unable to fall back asleep. David is on his way to pick up Jonathan from the airport, home from college for the Thanksgiving holidays, and I am missing my friends and my life back in Beijing. Then I heard this familiar refrain: “Without a death, there can be no resurrection”.

There are a few of these deaths in my life, and each one is a major turning point. God loves to play games of exchange with me, and I am familiar with the refrain:

  • The night before deciding to marry David, I was praying through the night reading through the entire book of Isaiah. It was then that I had heard that same phrase for the first time: “Without a death, there can be no resurrection”. This led me to read the story of the resurrection of Lazarus in the book of John chapter 11. I cried tears of desperation, wanting so badly for God to change my parents’ hearts. I had wanted so desperately for Mom and Dad to come bless my wedding, but God said that without dying to that tie, there can be no resurrection of a healthier form of relationship with my parents where I can truly honor them. Without leaving my parents, I cannot cleave to my husband. Since then, there’s been reconciliation, and my parents have come to respect the boundaries I’ve drawn around my marriage and come to treat David with respect. Even though I am still waiting for the complete fulfillment of that exchange, for my parents to both become followers of Christ, I see the wisdom of leaving so that I can cleave.

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” -- Matthew 10:37-39

"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." -- Matthew 19:29

  • During worship at youth worker’s retreat, my mind was having trouble focusing because I was preoccupied with the tangle of politics and intrigue at work. As I struggled to concentrate, I saw a picture of Jesus asking me to play patti cake with Him. But first I have to hand over what I was holding onto tightly as I grasped the preoccupation of my heart with my hands behind my back. After a long struggle, I finally and reluctantly gave Jesus my game of intrigue with L, who was meaning to advance her own career by making me look bad at work. Jesus then invited me to close my eyes and stretch out my arms to receive the surprise gift He wanted to give to me. When I opened my eyes, I was holding a beautiful baby boy in my arms. Two weeks later I was pregnant with Caleb. That exchange was entirely unequal, because no victory at office politics can ever come close to comparing with the joy of parenting Caleb.

  • The evening at Castaways, I invited EL, AK, and ET to come witness my funeral. On one index card I wrote my worldly ambitions and things I took pride in (brand new Acura, income, SAT score, accomplishments) and on another my spiritual ambitions (missions, saving thousands of souls for Jesus, donating millions to His cause, doing great things for God). After declaring myself dead to the things in each category and index card, I tossed the cards into the fire, one after another. Then I pledged to serve David for the rest of my life even if he is called to be a janitor for the rest of his life. At the time, my mind was mired in fantasies of “what if?”, asking myself what things I could accomplish if I didn’t have kids in worldly and spiritual terms. This exchange has yielded amazing dividends in my marriage and family life, as I closed off any back doors for regret or escape in my allegiance and loyalty, putting my marriage above all else, including career and ministry.

  • Writing that letter to Dad refusing to take over the thriving business in exchange for starting over from nothing with my husband. This led to our adventure in giving as God blessed David and me financially way beyond our needs so that we are able to finance many works in the Kingdom of God as well as to help with many people with their personal emergencies and educational needs. Dad lost his business and through the process, found enough humility to accept Jesus as his savior when living with us.

  • When David lost his job, he challenged me to pray about the possibility of homeschooling our children if we should be called to remain in China and we would not be able to afford tuition for our kids. He said: “You are always challenging people to put their Isaacs on the altar. Are you willing to put your Isaac on the altar and home school our kids if the Lord calls us to live on support?” I have given up everything to stay home: my career, my ministry, but all I wanted to do now was to be a good mother and make sure that my kids were brought up well. That meant a good education in an international school where they can continue to grow up in an English speaking environment. When God called us to China, I was confident that He would provide for all our needs. In my mind, that meant an international school education. That Thursday morning upstairs in my room in Beijing, I wrestled all day with God to put my kids’ education on the altar. Later that afternoon, I saw a vision of Jesus hanging on a cross tipped over with massive amounts of blood pouring into the stream across the street next to WAB. He looked at me and asked me if I would like to join Him in healing this land. I wept and wept and said yes – I am willing to give Him my children’s education and future, trusting that He will take care of them. Later that year I would start writing monthly magazine columns. In the end, God did not provide the tuition for international school, but for local Chinese school. Over well intentioned warnings from well meaning friends around me who were concerned that putting our kids in local Chinese school would destroy their confidence and create psychological damage, my kids and I made a decision in faith to go to local school. Now if you ask them, they will each tell you that local Chinese school was their biggest blessing in China, because it was there in the crucible of trials that they experienced God’s presence and miracles, solidifying their faith and relationship with Him. Now looking back, nothing was cheated, as admission letters from top schools and the scholarship offers came. In the process, I also gained the right to speak to parents inside the educational system in China with insights as an “insider”, coming up with answers from the home rather than the system to deal with the many challenges of Chinese schooling. That exchange turned out to be another unfair one, as He returned to me all that I gave and entrusted to Him and added much more beyond all that I could have asked for or have imagined.

This morning, Father God is asking me for another exchange – to put what I’ve achieved in China on the altar and die to my career. In my heart of hearts, I know that it has replaced God and family as my first love, and is becoming a snare to me. As I see the tears of those dear brothers and sisters at our going away party at church, and the sadness on their faces as they sent us off at the airport, my heart ached. This is one of the hardest cuts I’ve had to make, as China has already become a part of me. I am willing, Lord! Help me to say goodbye well in my heart.

To Keep Your Lovely Face

by Graham Kendrick

To keep Your lovely face

Ever before my eyes

This is my prayer

Make it my strong desire

That in my secret heart

No other love competes

No rival throne survives

And I serve only You

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