Sacrifice


My help comes from the LORD,

who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121: 2

 

In our world there are forces of nature and thee are natural forces. Both groups can be very powerful and have the capacity to bring about upheaval and disruption of life. However, it seems that the winds that blow as a result of hurricane, typhoon, and tornado are mild and rather calm when they are compared to the torrents of cold-hearted and acidic gusts that flow from the mouths of people. We are able to bring about destruction and inflict pain in ways that far exceed that which comes out of nature. Yet, the virulent anger that grounds the words of people in these times is also a force that comes our=t of our nature. It is rooted and nurtured in that part of our fallen humanity where fear rules the day and anger equals power and control.

 

The ways in which we communicate today have made it even easier to attack and to assault people with our words, for there is no longer the need to face your foe directly or to even disclose identity when doing it. People can say anything that they wish and send it out into the air without consideration for the recipient and with no need to get to actually know the person who is the target of those hurtful words. All of this, the anger, disrespect, anonymity, and aggression for the sake of power, are products of creation gone very far off course. None of this was inherent in the world that God designed and formed with His own hands; instead, it came into existence out of the fallenness of humanity and as a result of the broken nature of our relationship with our Lord. There is nothing contained in these forms of engagement that speaks of God’s love and grace or of Christ’s redemption.

 

Unfortunately these voices are not easily silenced, and they do not appear to be going away any day soon. In fact, the quantity and the volume of their words feel as if they are increasing daily. So, answers regarding dealing with it all need to come from sources beyond the world where we live. These are times when turning to the Lord for peace and for reason is essential. He speaks a form of truth that penetrates through the power of the words that are being hurled at us. Christ provides us with His purpose for our lives of service to Him, and He invites us into the same cruciform journey that He walked for the sake of His Gospel. This path is not easy or without its opposition, but it is surrounded and infused with the presence of the maker of heaven and earth. The One who made it all speaks to our troubled hearts and says to follow me, listen to my voice, and enter into my peace in the midst of the howling winds of this world.

 

 

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

Romans 8: 33

 

We humans are capable of disturbing and terrifying levels of anger and the aggressive actions that form up out of it. This powerful emotion can rise up from any number of basic fears, and its expression is never good or positive for either its holders or for its targets. There does seem to be even more of this type of response to the challenges of life today than there has been in the past. It would seem as if anger has become the shock tactic that is being employed by many in order to attempt to win the day’s debate without actually presenting facts, evidence, or making a reasoned argument. The fury that anger summons up is intended to intimidate and to belittle others into submission. Its use stands as one of the clearest contrasts in our days between the ways of Jesus and those of the world.

 

Unfortunately, people who seek to share the truth of God’s love and the ways of His kingdom with our world are quite frequently the targets of angry responses. The truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is confrontational to many people. This is understandable when the people who are faced with its message do not claim to have a relational knowledge of Christ, but is deeply troubling when they are individuals and groups of people who speak of Jesus as their Lord. Yet, this does happen. It would seem that some people are highly selective as to which parts and aspects of God’s Word they choose to hear and adhere to. They set aside Christ and His ways for the power tactics of our age as they shout and rage in order to stifle engagement, inhibit love’s transformative work, and defeat the truest intent of Christ’s calling to His people and His church.

 

When a follower of Jesus is faced with this sort of angry aggression, it is frightening, unnerving, and deeply troubling. This is a completely normal and natural response to the terror tactics that have been employed against one’s own Christ-motivated attempts to proclaim truth. When peacemaking is met with violence, whether physical or verbal, the result is a potent shock to the heart and the mind of the peacemakers. Yet, the ways of this world with their anger, violence, and destructive bent will not prevail. Their accusatory words will be lost in the purifying flames of Christ’s truth, and their fear inspired aggression will be quenched by the healing waters of God’s love and grace that pour forth from His true disciples in response to those who oppose them. At the end of the day and with certainty at the end of all days, Christ’s disciples will stand justified by Him for refusing to give in to the world and to its Hellish tactics as Jesus Christ stands victorious over all.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3: 27-29

 

There is one and only one point of convergence for all that truly matters in this world. No one and nothing other than Jesus Christ brings us together in ways that are valid and lasting. Yet people who claim Christ are not unified. We argue and disagree, and sadly, we too frequently do so over trivia, minutiae, and about third-rate issues of our understanding of Scripture and faith practice. Yet, there are other issues that are not unimportant and that should work to bring those of us who know Christ closer together rather than drive a wedge into our unity. Paul is identifying a major set of division creators from his days, and these would appear to be rather universal in that even after these two thousand years they and related issues continue to break apart people who claim faith in Christ.

 

Too many of these divisions are based upon worldly issues such as nationalism, protection of human institutions, the acquisition of wealth and power, care for the powerless, inclusion of the oppressed, and gender or racial equality and right treatment. The resolution of these long-standing issues should be found in our Lord’s presence and through the safety of spirit that comes in knowing Him to the degree that God is trusted to provide all. In the light of this eternal truth, we can all be people who give up our sense of protection and self-defense, and we can become people and therefore nations of people who operate out of a first-fruits giving state of heart that fears for nothing and that embraces all others without regard to their differences from us. Unfortunately for many of us this is not a quiet and passive sort of sit back and watch for the Lord to work form of commission from Christ.

 

When we move toward Christ, we also step ever more fully toward His cross. We step into the painful encounters and the hard decisions that He was forced to make in order to right the effects of the world’s sinful brokenness. Christ’s church has always been gathered together on that hill of suffering and pain where the cross is planted; yet, as we so gather we are also entering into our Lord’s victory over every power and all of the evil that operates in this world. In our days with their violence, oppression, and divisive currents of arrogant speech and legislation, we need to stand as the church of Christ in open and fearless opposition to all that is ungodly in our midst. Even the thought or the suggestion that racial superiority exists is wrong, the concept of protecting one’s nation at the cost of the lives of the oppressed is anti-God, failing to care for the poor and the weak regardless of the cost fails to recognize the Lord as our true provider, and the list goes on. We can choose to step out of our fears and our selfish concerns and journey together through our days as the church of Jesus Christ united in His Spirit and pouring out His grace, love, and mercy upon this desperate world. Or we can remain separated and apart.

 

This is a choice that we get to make. I believe that Christ does call upon His people to make it. These are defining days for each of us who know Christ as we make decisions about the way that we will conduct our lives. If we remain silent on the issues that are confronting our world today, we are saying that we accept the rhetoric, the actions, and the course that those in power at this moment dictate. This is not an acceptable course for Christ’s people or for His church. We should not fear the outcome of our actions when they are dictated by the truth of God’s Word, and we cannot continue to hold onto thoughts and concepts that stand in opposition to that same Word. We, Christ’s people and His church, must repent of our sinful acceptance of the world’s standards and views, turn to the Holy Scriptures and the Spirit for guidance, and step onto the common ground of the cross from which we will work under Christ’s direction and in His power to bring redemption and healing to this world.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Ephesians 6: 10

 

There comes a time in everyone’s life when it is necessary to recognize certain fundamental truths. One of those is the fact that there is a lot more power afoot in our world than I have the capacity to stand up against. I can be skillful in debate, possess substantial financial resources, and even have armed responders to support my causes; yet, I will not have enough power and might on my side to defeat every true enemy that I will encounter. Thus, I will come to that end of the road where what I bring to the fight is no more than enough to lead me into defeat and wherein I can either remain beaten or I can surrender myself to the One who is already victorious over all that is in this world.

 

As I surrender to Christ, His victory is mine. When I yield any part of my fight to His will, Christ enfolds some more of me into His form of conquest over all that is evil and lost. In one sense, this process of yielding of myself and of entering into the hard won conquest of sin that came about on the cross is the real point wherein I become strong enough to even enter the battle that is life. Christ calls upon us to be strong and courageous, for this world is a place where terror roams our streets and pain and suffering are promised to us as a part of our spiritual birthright. Living righteously requires far more of these God-given qualities than does dwelling in the flesh. So, we need strength and courage to go out into the storm with God’s truth, love, and justice as our guiding principles.

 

Yet, this is what Christ promises to give to us. He tells us and has demonstrated through His life that He stands up to all forms of opposition and prevails. Now Christ takes His people into that same victory. He grants to us the strength that will be demanded of us along the path that we will travel today. That capacity to engage with the forces of this world does not come from our own skills, intelligence, or other form of resource; it is all a gift that is given out of the love that God has for us and that is found only in Christ. As followers of Christ, we are the truly strong people in this world, but that power is demonstrated in ways that are often strange and contrarian to the environment where we reside. Christ answers the forces of this world with love, grace, justice, and peace, and He uses our yielded selves as His workers in doing it all.

The LORD will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121: 8

 

This may not be what everyone has in mind when they consider a relationship with God. The degree of watchfulness on the Lord’s part that is indicated here is just too close and way too personal for our tastes as there are times when the idea that God sees it all is not very comfortable. In other words, we want to be invisible from time to time, and a God who has His hands on all of my life isn’t going to just ignore what I am about during those days of desired secrecy. Yet, there is a tension implied in all of this, too, for there are many situations and events when I really do want God in His power and with His strength to be watching over my life and guarding my pathway from harm.

 

In truth we cannot have it both ways. We do not get to select which aspects of life are under God’s view and within His area of involvement; rather, He is all in with our existence, and the Lord is fully engaged in the total package that forms the comings and the goings of life. There is no place where He does not go, and we cannot enter into activities or even have thoughts that He is not aware of. So, for me, I have needed to come to grips with the fact that God sees and will engage with everything that I do, say, and think. This part of my reality has caused me to consider the nature and the character of God more closely, for it brings out the question of my comfort with His proximity to my innermost self.

 

When I do carefully consider who God is and contemplate His nature deeply, the eyes of my heart are opened up to the fact that there is simply no one else who I would want to be that close to me. The Lord loves me with an unceasing depth of commitment that is not possible to match elsewhere, and He cares about the nature and the quality of my life to the degree that He has already sacrificed His all in order to redeem me from the pain of death that I so fully deserved. This God, who watches over each of my steps and who places His mighty hand of protection over my head every moment of my days, provides me with guidance and with the wisdom of eternity to use in considering the next steps that I will take. As I yield myself to His will, my Lord takes me into the glory of His will, and with God as my guardian and my counselor, my days are lived out in a form of freedom and peace that is empowering and joyous beyond all imagining.

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.

2 Corinthians 9: 6

 

This is a discussion about money and what we do with it. It is also a statement that applies to the things that we own, and it speaks to our attitude toward our time. Mostly, this is a comment on the way that we view other people, their needs, and our own sense of security in our relationship with Christ. He gave everything for us. Christ lived a life in which He took on our pain and suffering while demonstrating the depths of God’s loving compassion for His people. While doing this He continually looked to the Father and trusted Him to supply all wisdom, direction, and the resources that were needed.

 

Even with Christ’s example in mind, it is not always so easy to actually believe that God will supply me with everything that I need. So, holding everything that I have, including my money, prized possessions, and time, in fully open hands is not all that natural an act for me. It is even harder to risk exposing my heart to others in a manner that makes me vulnerable. Still, all of this is what God has given to me. He gives completely, absolutely, and without reservation for everything of significance that I have comes from His generosity. Most importantly, Christ gives me His heart, and in doing this, He changes mine from one that seeks to protect itself from exposure to pain and loss to a heart that can more openly share God’s love with others.

 

When we give we don’t get to control the return; yet, the more we give, the more we are acting like our Lord. The more open we are with our love, mercy, compassion, and understanding, the more we are transformed into the image of Christ. God’s direction for our lives is not easy, but it is simple. He wants us to openly and willingly reach out to all who are needy, all who are thirsty, and all who are alone. Then, He wants us to give everything that we have to meet those needs while fully trusting Him to continue to provide us with all that we will ever require for life.

 

On God rest my salvation and my glory;

my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Psalm 62: 7

 

Life in this world requires people to work hard. It’s a promise that rapidly becomes a fact of life. Effort, sweat and tears, and stress and strain are in the offing for each of our days. So, it is no wonder at all that people would hold fast to the idea that something really big like salvation needs to come our way through the most significant and intense of all of our labor. How else could it be when everything that we obtain of value or real worth is acquired and achieved by God’s promised “sweat of our face?”1

 

Yet, that is not the way that the Lord intends for it to be. He has taken on the burden of saving us from our state of being lost. Jesus put out the immeasurable effort for the sakes of each of us so that we could return to the full presence of God by the profound yet simple act of faith and obedience that is found in believing in Christ. Redemption from the death that sin cast upon everyone of us is ours because God desires to be intimately close to each of us, and so He took the burden and the pain of eternal sacrifice upon His own flesh for us. Now, as redeemed beings, our labor has a new meaning and purpose.

 

In this life we still need to work, for we are required to be active agents for the care and the utilization of the resources that God has provided to us on earth. The Lord also sends us out into our world to do work for the sake and the glory of His kingdom. Yet, the effort that we put forth in this manner has nothing to do with our salvation or even with our status in God’s eyes. All that we do as followers of Christ is to be done out of the security and the confidence that we have as Christ’s redeemed people and God’s beloved children. Thus, the effort that we put out is not fueled and powered by personal capability or capacity, but rather, it is accomplished because Christ is in us and His strength, wisdom, love, and grace are supplied to us in unending abundance. In Christ we can truly and fully rest.

 

  1. Genesis 3: 19

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