Category Archives: Sacrifice

It’s Really Not About Getting What We Want

Blog_ThumbnailHere we are. It is Christmas time again. The craziness and busyness has been upon for several weeks now, and probably won’t subside until days after Christmas. Then, we all collapse and head back to work to get some relaxation. Sometimes, I wonder how it ever got to be this way. I am sure that it started out simply and sincerely. This is not to say that this time cannot still be filled with simplicity and sincerity. But the insanity and commercialization (to echo Charlie Brown) seems too often to leave the true message of Christmas in the dust.

We spend a ton of money, if we have it (and even if we don’t). We worry if our gifts to others will be liked and appreciated. We gather with friends and family. We worry about impressing people we don’t even like. If you happen to have the pleasure of working in a corporate setting with annual giving campaigns, you may get to hear the annual plea or arm-twisting, whichever you prefer, to give to causes that you may or may not agree with. We run from event to event, hardly stopping to breathe or reflect on the reason this season is celebrated.

In the end, however, this season is all about selflessness. It is about sacrificing on the behalf of others. It is the celebration of the greatest self-sacrifice that human history will ever know. And this sacrifice was made so that we might know God, and call on Him as Father, and be welcomed into His family and kingdom. This all happened so that we could place our faith and hope in God.

“…knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” 1 Peter 1:18-21

Though being in very nature God, Jesus took on the very nature of a servant and was born in the likeness of man (Philippians 2:6-8). He humbled Himself and became obedient, even to the point of death, by coming as a baby and living out His life, so that He could die – all for us.

Christmas is not about getting what we want. Christmas is about getting what we need. And we need Jesus. We need Jesus whether we are lost and far from Him or whether we have been walking with Him for years. He is our greatest need – each moment and every day. And God offers this hope freely through salvation in Jesus Christ, if we will just reach out and receive it.

My prayer is that, this Christmas, we will all know the hope and joy that are offered through Jesus. For those of us who already know Christ, I pray that we will be reminded again of the magnitude of the gift that brought us our freedom. For those of you who don’t yet know Christ, I pray that the knowledge of the love of Christ would find a home in your hearts this season.

For all of us, I pray that our lives would come to reflect the self-sacrificing life given so freely for us, reflecting the true meaning of Christmas. That rather than striving for position, accumulating more things we don’t need, and always trying to have things our own way, we would demonstrate the humility and selflessness of Jesus Christ, God’s greatest gift, and the only true hope and joy for this world.

Together for His glory…

The Cost of the Life of Worship

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11

I have a friend who is a pastor in another country. Their church has gone through difficult times. Because of decisions made, which were based on following what they felt led by God to do, about half of their congregation left the church. To make matters worse, the government has determined that churches like theirs will no longer be recognized as an official church; therefore creating additional struggles for them, logistically, culturally, and financially, as they try to reach their community with the gospel.

However, at the same time, God continues to bless his ministry and the church. God is using Him to reach thousands of people throughout his country and beyond, as he teaches and reasons from the truth of the Word of God. His ministry reaches into his culture and into the theological, academic, and political communities of his country and beyond. Recently, he found out that their church would have to move locations. This could be a hardship on their church. However, he looks on this as God opening the door for ministry, as their new location is in an impoverished area, where there are thousands in need of hope. He is excited about the opportunities this will provide to spread the gospel.

I have another friend who is a pastor. The church he pastors has also gone through some difficult struggles. The economic impact of the past few years has taken a toll on families within the church. Several individuals or families have left the church, either because they feel led to go somewhere else or because they have issue with someone in leadership or something within the ministry of the church. These circumstances, and others, have together impacted the financial situation of the church.

Therefore, to be faithful to manage God’s resources well, decisions were made to cut spending. He informed the congregation of decisions to tighten spending, providing an overall view of the cuts. What he did not tell them was that he, along with the other full-time staff member, agreed to have their salaries cut by 15%. They sacrificed so that the part-time staff would not be impacted financially and so other areas of ministry were not stripped of additional resources. So, they quietly sacrificed for those they serve, at significant financial cost to themselves.

However, the Lord continues to bless this ministry. This pastor continues to faithfully teach the Word of God to his congregation. He continues to pour out his life in service to those in his congregation. And God is blessing this ministry, as he, the elders, staff, and ministry leaders strive to implement the vision that God has provided for growing disciples and reaching the community with the gospel. People are learning and growing in the faith through the impact of the ministries of the church. Over the past months, several people have come to Christ and are now growing in their faith. Other believers, who have been less active within the life of the church, are now fulfilling God’s call to serve His people and spread the gospel. Still others, already pouring out their lives, are giving even more of their time and resources. God is at work, even in the midst of uncertainty and struggle.

We could speak of many others, who live throughout this country and the world, pouring out their time, their gifts and talents, opening their homes, giving away their resources and money, living in the face of opposition and danger, and even giving up their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are not looking for power, fame, and prosperity. They are looking to a greater blessing, that of knowing Jesus Christ and living for the glory of their God. They have counted the treasures of this world as worthless compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ and the eternal treasure that is Him and through Him, both now and for eternity.

So, this leads me to a question. What does following Christ cost us? If following Jesus Christ does not significantly impact our lives (spiritually, culturally, emotionally, physically, financially, popularity, and availability), then we need to examine our lives and priorities. Does the way we live demonstrate that we treasure Christ? Or do we value our earthly possessions, homes, cars, careers, sex, popularity, success, vacations, entertainment, time, and leisure more than Christ?

Here in the American church, I think it is time for a serious evaluation of our lives. How are we different from our neighbors or the culture? Earlier in the letter to the Philippians, Paul urges the church to shine as lights in the world, as they live in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation (Philippians 2:14-18). How are we doing? Do we shine like stars or do we blend right in? If we are to shine like stars, there should be a significant difference in our lives.

Jesus said that people would know we are His by the way we love each other (John 13:34-35). Frequently, some of the greatest damage to Christians is done from within the church. Churches can be ripe with gossip, slander, lack of respect and criticism towards leadership, bitterness, an unwillingness to forgive each other, rebellion, and more. Who needs enemies outside the church? We do the enemy’s work for him. Why get involved in ministry when I can lob grenades from the sidelines? Remember the words of Jesus. The world will know we are His disciples because we love one another.

We are called to give up the temporary pleasures of sin and to pursue God in holiness, through the indwelling and power of the Holy Spirit. We are to put to death what is earthly in us, whether sexual immorality, impurity, overindulgence, coveting, slander, lying, malice, obscene talk, or any of the other sins that entangle us. We have put off the old self, with its practices, and put on the new self which is being renewed into the image of Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:5-10). There is a cost to pursuing Christ in righteousness, forsaking those public and private sins. We give up the temporary, but empty, pleasures. But if we yield to His work within us, we will reap joy and the wonder of becoming more like Christ and enjoy fellowship with Him.

Does following Jesus impact how I spend my money and use my resources? The New Testament is full of examples of those who gave abundantly, sacrificed beyond their means, gave up possessions, comfort, and lived humbly so that they could give to God and support the work of the gospel. Many believers throughout the world today make great sacrifices to follow Christ. They give up much and, many times, have things taken from them specifically because they are Christians. Their generosity and forsaking of worldly gain can put us to shame here in America.

How significantly should following Jesus impact us financially? This is a question that every follower of Christ has to ask themselves. “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

When, at the end of days, we stand before Christ, I don’t think we are going to wish we had spent more money on homes, cars, going out to eat, entertainment, the newest electronic devices, or the myriads of other things that flash across our computer or television screens. So, how much do I have to give? If I am asking myself the question in that manner, my heart is not in right place. I think we should pray that God would allow us to give as much as possible. “How much can I give, God? Please help me be able to give more!”

When it comes down to it, the cost of being able to live the life of worship is very expensive. However, the ultimate price is not paid by us. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9.

We cannot pay for salvation. We can only receive it. We can never repay God for what we have received. We can only participate in the grace that we have received, living by His power and wisdom, and by following the example of the One Who gave His life for us. And by valuing the eternal and letting go of the temporary, which will fade away in the end, we bring glory to God and are promised the rich reward of our God.

It may be rough going at times, as we learn to leave the things of this world behind and face the backlash of those who hold onto this world and its temporary pleasures. We will face opposition, sometimes even within the church. But the reward of God is eternal and it will never end and it will never fade away. More on that later.

Together for His glory…

The Sacrifice of the Life of Worship

And he [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24 ESV)

Control. We like to have it. It gives us security and pleasure. We think we have to possess it in order to have happiness and accomplish the things we want in this world. The world itself tells us that we need it. And yet, Jesus tells us that the only way to truly live is to relinquish it. There is a lot packed into those two sentences from Jesus.

Deny myself. This means that I give up ultimate control of my life to Christ. It is far more than making resolutions or giving up certain things a few times a year. It is more than trying to be a good person and follow the teachings of Jesus. This is a complete turning over of my life to God. It is yielding my wants, desires, and dreams to the perfect plan of the sovereign God.

Take up my cross. Taking up my cross implies that I must die. I must die to my will for my life, and take hold of God’s will for my life, my family, my church, my community, and my world. I must be willing to face the rejection that comes with identifying with Jesus Christ.

Follow Jesus. I must follow Jesus wherever He leads. During His earthly life, Jesus’ path often led Him into suffering and sacrifice. As His follower, I must expect that my path will lead there as well. Today, if I truly follow Jesus, the world will not stand up and cheer. If I truly follow Jesus, I will sacrifice many things in this life.

Losing my life to save it. As I deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus, I will find that I have lost nothing. In losing my life, I will actually save it. I may lose temporary, earthly things that the world clamors after, but I will gain the riches of eternity. In denying myself, yielding control of my life to God, I actually find freedom and joy in the richness and wonders of God. In taking up my cross, I might lose the favor and rewards this world has to offer, but I gain the favor and rewards of God Himself. And in following Jesus, while I may experience suffering and loss of worldly gain, I gain Christ and become co-heirs with Him.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12 ESV) As the apostle Paul says in this verse, I have not yet arrived. I have a long way to go. I want to be abandoned to God, but I get in my own way and I let other things turn my gaze away from the greater purposes and glory of God.

This past Sunday, our pastor spoke from the book of Malachi. It was a call to abandon mediocre living in every area of our lives. My selfish desires and fixation on temporary things are what keep me from living beyond the mediocre and experiencing the wonder of being in the center of God’s will. This is because moving from mediocre to extraordinary requires me to lose my life. It means giving up my rights to my time, my possessions, my money, and my life. It means putting it all at feet of God.

This is the sacrifice of the life of worship. It is yielding, dying, and suffering loss. And in turn, it is freedom, living, and gaining the riches of eternity.  In losing my life, I find it, in abundance from the very hand of God, through Jesus Christ. For all of the promises of God are fulfilled in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)

Together for His glory…

Sleeping on the Floor

As I was heading off to bed last night, I passed my youngest son’s room. The light was off and he was asleep. It had been a rough evening for him. When I arrived home from work, he was sitting on the couch and not looking his best. He had that look we had seen before. It was the look of impending illness. Sure enough, half way through dinner, it set in. The rest of the evening was spent with the trash can close by, as he went through several waves of vomiting.

This morning, he was back to normal, for the most part. He was up early and had made his bed and was watching Sports Center. He was feeling much better, he said. Twelve hour previous to that was a different story though. And when he does not feel well, he does not like to be alone. So, as I passed his room, there he was, sleeping in his bed. And there was my wife, sleeping on the floor, next to his bed. She has done this many times over the years, giving up sleep and comfort to be close to the kids when they are not feeling well. Now that the kids are grown, it happens less frequently. However, in the special case of our youngest son, she still cares for him this way.

This is a pattern of behavior for my wife. It is one of the qualities that I love most about her. I have watched her sacrifice sleep, comfort, worldly gain, and many other things for the sake of those she cares for. I remember last year, when my ailing mother came home from the hospital. That same day, my father, son, and daughter-in-law all came down with the flu or a virus. Since they were all living in the same house with my mom, they all had to be quarantined and kept away from her. My wife stepped in and stayed at the house for several days, and cared for them all.

My mom did not sleep very well and had to get up several times in the night. Since my wife was afraid she would not hear her, she slept in the bed, next to my mom, holding her hand when she was in discomfort or restless. She did not get much sleep that week and was exhausted when it was over. But she said would do it all over again and that it was an honor to take care of my mom and the others.

My wife is one of my heroes. From this small glimpse, I think you can see why. I know she has her flaws. She reminds me of them frequently. She does not see herself as a greatly gifted person. I would disagree with her completely on that. Because I have seen her in action. And because her actions reflect a greater Hero. Someone Who gave up far more than my wife or any other human being that ever lived.

Jesus Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) Jesus, God in human flesh, walked this troubled earth, slept in the dirt, washed dirty feet, cared for the outcasts. He bled and died to save those who mocked, beat, and killed Him. He loved those who misunderstood, denied, abandoned, and rejected Him.

The God and creator of the universe became like us. Not so he could be served. But so He could serve and lay down His life for us. This unbelievable act of self-sacrifice and service is what the apostle Paul says should be our goal. We should strive to have the same mind as Christ, counting others as more significant than ourselves, and looking out for the interests of others, not just our own (Philippians 2:1-5).

This is a foreign concept in the world we live in. Very seldom do we see this demonstrated. We see exactly the opposite. What’s in it for me? Succeeding at the expense of others. But the world is not our guide on how we should live our lives. Jesus is. And as we yield to the Holy Spirit and allow God to work in us, transforming us into the image of Christ, Jesus will shine through. It will not always look perfect. We will stumble and have to get up again. But we can be confident in our God and His promise to complete the work He has begun in us. We continue to run the race and press on toward the prize of the upward call in Christ (Philippians 3:12-14).

I think our churches would be much different places if they were filled with self-sacrificing individuals, who gave of themselves rather than seeking to have everything their way. I am thankful that I am a part of a church that has many giving people like that. They serve diligently, often unnoticed, giving their time and effort to help others see and know Jesus. They live in a way that shines the light of Jesus. My prayer is that I will grow in my willingness to forsake my own comfort for the sake of others. May we all strive for that, through the power of the Holy Spirit. To be the body of Christ, shining like stars in the heavens, and unmistakably different from what the world sees as normal (Philippians 2:14-15). To live lives where we are willing to sleep on the floor.

Together for His glory…