Nik Ripken and his wife, Ruth, have spent nearly 40 years working with people in dozens of far-flung countries, many of which were in the Middle East and some they still can’t mention today. And in all their travels, one of the greatest lessons they learned has been the value of sacrifice — a tricky inevitability of the human experience that often trips us up and sometimes slows us down but can nevertheless strengthen us and point others toward hope, even if we can’t see the often-soft glimmer of the Promised Land ourselves.
On Easter Sunday in Nairobi in 1997, on the heels of being pushed out of Somalia, where Christians face fatal persecution, the Ripkens lost their 16-year-old son Timothy, who suffered cardiac arrest brought on by an asthma attack.
Ripken, author of the forthcoming 90-day devotional book “The Insanity of Sacrifice,” which releases Oct. 1, told Faithwire the death of his and his wife’s son Timothy is “without a doubt” the greatest sacrifice of their lives.
While his death isn’t something they will ever easily accept — a reality they share with a heavy gulp, as if all their emotions have somehow materialized and trapped themselves in their throats — the Ripkens have seen how God has redeemed their wreckage and restored the devastation that left them reeling.
His son’s passing, Ripken explained, “has opened doors among believers in persecution who think we’re Western and don’t understand what they’re going through, and we tell them about Somalia and the believers killed there and what that meant to us and what that did to us and about burying our son.”
“Our son’s death,” he continued, “has caused believers in persecution to tell us intimate stories and things that have happened to them that they probably would’ve never told without the death of our son.”
Their loss — an unthinkable sacrifice — has given the Ripkens the opportunity to embrace authentic empathy in a way that has led hundreds to the foot of the Cross.
It’s also taught them about redemption, and how so many American Christians miss out on the myriad mysteries and manifold blessings of sacrifice.
This is Ripken’s third book, each of which address a different facet of the Christian faith. All three books begin the same way: “The Insanity of …” His first was about God, his second about obedience, and his latest about sacrifice.
While he has, and still does, hear from people offended by his use of the word “Insanity,” Ripken said he can’t fathom a better word to describe the unassailable goodness of God, even — and especially — in the midst of our deep, and at times unrelenting, pain.
“Even today, thinking about almighty God sending his Son to be crucified is one of the most senseless acts of spirituality in all of history,” the author explained. “What God does that, other than our God, the Father, who gave his Son to die on the cross for us?”
Too often, though, Christians in the West, perhaps even unintentionally, end the story with Jesus’ sacrifice. And while His ultimate sacrifice and resurrection is completely sufficient for our salvation, God also requires of us deep and difficult sacrifices. He calls us to die to ourselves — to crucify our natural inclinations and take up the character of Christ.
The apostle Paul, in his letter to believers in Galatia, laid bare our inability to meet God’s standards, as hard as we may strive to conform ourselves to His ways. After trying and failing, Paul admitted he stopped attempting to meet all the requirements of God’s law on his own, “so that I might live for God.”
“My old self has been crucified with Christ,” he wrote. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Ripken described “The Insanity of God” — the title of his first book — as “grace in its purest form.” And a grace that beckons us to action.
“If I’ve learned anything from leaders in persecution,” he said, “it’s that if you don’t have crucifixion, if you’re not willing to sacrifice, if you miss sacrifice, you miss resurrection.”
His fear is so many believers in the U.S. — and even around the world — “are missing resurrection.”
In fact, Ripken said he heard from workers living in an undisclosed country that there are believers who don’t even know Jesus is alive — that His sacrifice ended with resurrection — yet they believe anyway.
“[The workers] gathered leaders from a country I can’t mention together and they were taking them through the great Bible stories … and all of the sudden, when they got to the story of the resurrection, people began to stand up and shout and these people said, ‘We’ve never heard this part of the story? We don’t know this part of the story.’ And our friends said, ‘Then why do you follow Jesus?’ [They replied,] ‘We follow Jesus because He loved us enough to die for us. We did not know He was resurrected, also.’”
Their newfound knowledge of that sacrifice, and the redemption and resurrection it set into motion, “changed them dramatically,” Ripken said, because, for the first time, they finally understood that “sacrifice was not all the story; resurrection was the end of the story.”
Believers are called to embrace sacrifice and resurrection in equal measure, because that is the full story of the Gospel, which we are commissioned to share cross-culturally, first by listening and then declaring.
Ripken’s devotional, “The Insanity of Sacrifice,” releases Oct. 1 and is available now for pre-order.