Sacrifice – What does it look like?

Today Luke Bayly brings us Part 2 of his thoughs on Sacrifice 

Hey all,

This is the second part of my blog post about sacrifice in a life lived for God. Last week, we talked about the meaning and purpose of sacrifice by looking at a passage in the book of Romans. In this part, we’ll look at where in our lives we should expect to have to make sacrifices in order to serve God.

 

Sacrifice in Jesus’s life and the apostle’s lives often looked dramatic—living a life of poverty, leaving home and family to following Jesus, martyrdom—and God does, sometimes, call on Christians to make similar sacrifices to these. But recall from last week that our sacrifice is spiritual—the important stuff is going on inside our heart, whether or not it is very visible outside. God may call us to make sacrifices that no one else, aside from you and God, will even recognize as a sacrifice. Oftentimes, this simply means “doing the right thing”. Following are four categories of common situations where doing the right thing pretty much equates to making a sacrifice.

 

Stifling our pride

When we place our self-worth in what other people think of us instead of what God thinks of us, we are tempted to make decisions that draw attention to ourselves at the expense of others, or do things that deliberately put others down in order to save face. For example, there can be heated moments where we feel like we need to one-up our adversary in some conflict. Holding back, instead, and trying to deescalate the argument or deciding to disengage…in the moment, that requires real sacrifice. It may not be very noticed. Maybe it’ll look to others like we’ve lost and our adversary has won. But doing so is an act of love and service to God and to our adversary, and you can be sure God notices it.

 

Being honest

This category is pretty self-explanatory. Perhaps we want to evade a punishment by hiding our wrongdoing, or perhaps we’re tempted to exploit an opportunity in a way that unfairly benefits us. To be honest and take a hit for it is an act of love and service to God and to all other people, and you can be sure God notices it.

 

Giving up an idol

There will always be things of this world that enthral us—things that are good, more often than not—and we want to experience more of them; invest more of our life into them. But when our love for these things conflicts with our focus on God and service to Him, they have become an idol—a false God in our life. Idols in our life will bend our hearts away from God, and always leave us emptier inside. Turning away from our idols is an act of love and service to God and to ourselves, and you can be sure God notices it.

 

Putting time and effort into serving God

At the risk of stating the obvious—giving of our time and energy to serve God and His kingdom, often without monetary recompense, can be taxing. Oh, and speaking of taxes, God often needs our money, too. Perhaps this seems unfair—if God is all-powerful, why on earth does He need…money? And what service can we possibly do for Him that He couldn’t do better, himself? But recall from last week that the ultimate result of all our sacrifices is that we understand more of God’s will and who God is…and that is what He wants for us. Putting time and effort into serving God is, by definition, an act of love and service to God, and you can be sure that God notices and rejoices in it.

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Essential Questions: What is the second step if I believe in Jesus?

Suppose that you have taken your spiritual temperature.  Suppose that you have decided to believe in Jesus.  Suppose you have repented.  What do you have to do now?

Be baptized. (It is possible that you already have been baptized, but if so, you can still learn the importance of your baptism to your Christian journey).

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(c) Can Stock Photo

Now, why would I suggest that the next step in your spiritual journey should be baptism?

(1) Jesus ordered his believers to be baptized.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20; See also Mark 16:15-16)

(2) Baptism symbolizes the transition from our self-centred way of life to our new life in Christ.  It shows our choice to turn away from death to eternal life as co-heirs of the Kingdom of God.

having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:12; See also Romans 6:3-5)

(3) Jesus was baptized.  His baptism identified Him as the Son of God. (Matthew 3:13-17Our baptism identifies us with Christ and also as sons and daughters of God the Father. Baptism identifies us with Christ in two ways.

  1. As a grown person, you are announcing to the world that you believe in Jesus Christ.  Your faith can no longer be a secret.
  2. When we are baptized, we are clothed with Christ.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27)

By being clothed with Christ, God no longer sees our sin.  Instead, He sees us through the lens of Christ’s death and resurrection which has washed our sin from us.

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12)

(4) Baptism is a rite of entry into the fellowship of believers; a type of initiation.  When you start CEGEP, college or, sometimes, sports team, frequently they have an initiation of some kind.  Many are silly; but they come from a tradition and have a specific meaning.

Since we become children of God through baptism (Galatians 3:26-27), we also become members of God’s family here on earth- the church universal. I am not talking about a specific building or specific people, but all believers of Christ everywhere become our brothers and sisters.  As members in this wider family, we can flourish and continue our spiritual journey as God refines us into the people He intended us to be.

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (Gal. 12:13)

Baptism is not a new idea.  It was used in the New Testament as a way of declaring faith in Jesus and becoming a member of the group of believers.  Take for example the story about Philip and the eunuch. (Acts 8:26-40)

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 

So, if you have not already been baptized, I leave you with the question from Acts 22:16.

And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.

If you have already been baptized and are just coming to fully believe in Jesus, I suggest that you look at your Christian tradition to see if there is a reaffirmation of baptismal vows.  If your tradition does not have an opportunity to publicly renew your baptismal covenant, consider praying the following prayer:

Lord Jesus, I admit that I have doubted you as the Son of God.  I now believe that you are the Son of God, who died and rose again from the dead in order to save me from my sins.  Forgive my unbelief.  I now turn to you as the my Lord and Saviour.  I admit that evil has a hold on me and it has become a habitual way for me to be myself.  I reject the unloving choices I have made and the sinful failures in my life.  I renew my commitment to turn away from Satan who is the author of sin and tries to separate me from you.  By Your Grace, I have come to know the gift of life that you offer.  Please help me to remain faithful, so I can grow as your servant.  Amen.

 

 

Essential Questions:  Take your spiritual temperature

In the Essential Questions posts, we have been talking about the ideas faith and repentance.  Once you have chosen to repent and believe in Jesus, God will continue to grow your faith and show you the ways in your life that need to be changed.   It is a step by step process.   

In the next few posts, we will be examining what God wants to give us when we respond to Him.  But before we move on, I want you to examine where you are in your own faith journey.  At the beginning of a new year, it is the time when many people take stock of their life.  I want your to take stock of your spiritual life.   

How have your responded to God in 2015?

Have you already repented and turned to God?  What does that look like in your life? 

Are you still questioning the good news? 

What are you wanting from God to increase your faith?  Frequently we want some proof from God that he is there and active before we are willing to stick our neck out.  

Do you have enough faith to turn your life toward Jesus and seek him in all areas of your life? 

Are you ready to be part of a spiritual family?  If you are a member of a spiritual family, how involved are you?  Are you a casual observer?  Are you seeking your identity through your involvement or are you somewhere in between?

Do you find time to rest and just be with God?

What are your spiritual goals this year?  Take a few moments and think about how you would like to further your spiritual journey this year.  In the new year, people come up with all sorts of goals as to their physical health, financial wealth or relationships.  As we begin 2016, what are your goals for your relationship with God?  Do you want more faith?  Do you want to follow God in more areas of your life?  Do you want to read the bible more?  Mediate more?  Pray more?  The list is endless.  Don’t we owe our eternal souls as much time and reflection on our spiritual goals as on the goals we have for other areas of our lives?  (If not more….)

These are just some of the questions that we can reflect on. Perhaps others come to your mind.  Take some time and let God lead you down the path of reflection.   

Write down what comes to your mind as you reflect on 2015.  Write down your goals for 2016.  Writing things down allows you to go back and see how far your have come; how much God has transformed you.  It will prevent your goals from getting lost among the cares of this world, which is frequently the most common enemy of growing our relationship with God.

After you have developed your goals and wrote them down, pray about them.  Give them to God.  Give Him all the cares and temptations and dreams that you have.  And each week find some time to go back and note how God is leading you in each of your goals (write that down too!).  By 2017, you will be amazed at what God has given you.

When It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas

The 8th of the Twelve Blogs of Christmas is brought to you by Jessica Stilwell!

Even if your Christmas memories are bad ones, they form a pattern. You may not want to relive it, but it is something that you recognize. What happens when that pattern, that routine, is disrupted? Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas when your home has been torn apart by war and you’re sitting in a Canadian military base waiting to be parceled out to refugee resettlement groups. It doesn’t feel like Christmas when a family member or pet has died or is sick. It doesn’t feel like Christmas under so many small circumstances that, from the outside, look like they shouldn’t make a difference. But we are creatures of habit, and those little things can change a lot.

This year, my parents both have new domestic arrangements, and it is the first time that I did not go home for Christmas. I went to my mom’s, I went to my dad’s, but I have been struggling this year with what it means to go “home” for Christmas. I’ve been stuck, mostly, because of the way that I only seem to get that Christmas feeling when things are familiar and comfortable.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about how uncomfortable and unfamiliar the first Christmas was – not just for the Holy Family, but for everyone. I’ve been thinking, too, about how God disrupted the pattern and routine of His relationship with us, how every day of Christ’s life was new and strange. In my own stressful preparations for coping with the non-Christmas feeling, I found it hard to think about how my family might be feeling, but Christ’s life on earth was entirely devoted to the needs of others. I tried to bring back old routines, but Christ was, is, all about making all things new.

Christmas itself was new, once, new and strange and uncomfortable. But God was still the same God. God is, still, the same God. When it doesn’t feel like Christmas because things are not the same, for reasons that look big on the outside or reasons that feel big on the inside, we can rely on that fact. In obsessing about the ways in which I feel so un-Christmas-y, I have lost sight of the God who was God when I was eight and ten and sixteen and Christmas felt the way I thought it should.

Sometimes, you can’t go physically home for Christmas. But the only thing stopping me from going home, to comfort, to familiarity, is my prideful belief that I can make it there on my own. God’s divine love was enough to make up for the sins of the whole world, to set right the things that had gotten out of whack. And God’s love has been enough, these past few days that didn’t feel like Christmas, to set me right. To once again make me new. To teach me that the gift of radical compassion, the gift of love that turned the world upside down, are at the foundation of that Christmas feeling I needed to remember was important.

12 Blogs of Christmas: The Word Becomes Flesh

Today’s post comes from Linda-Faith Chalk,  the President of Crosstalk Ministries
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Here we are Christmas Day 2015. These words are part of the prayer book gospel for Christmas day. John as gospeller makes a stark proclamation of cosmic import. This is the Christmas story without the manger without the shepherds, without the star, without the magi. John tells us what God was and is doing. It is kind of hard to produce a Christmas pageant with the starkness of this proclamation and yet its simplicity strips away anything which would hinder us from hearing what God was and is doing. These words are life-giving, and life-transforming. Just as the angels invited the shepherds to hear, to go, to see and to tell… these words invite us to behold the glory of the only begotten of the Father. The announcement of the Incarnation… The Word became flesh. The New Living Translation puts it in these words: 14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. This verse has been shared in a couple of the blogs but it is a verse which gives the heart of what God is doing. God is loving and intentional in all that He is, all that He says, all that He does. The Bible reminds us that His ways are beyond human understanding, or at times beyond human knowledge. Isaiah as prophet states it so well: “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts… my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

On Christmas day, we celebrate the Word becoming flesh, the Incarnation, God becoming one of us. We celebrate the love of the Father revealed in Jesus taking on human form. John tells us that He was full of grace and truth… it is embodied in His very person… He revealed and is the grace of God… He revealed and is the truth of God. His glory was uniquely His but as Luke tells the story as the shepherds visited the manger on that first Christmas night… they caught a glimpse of that glory and the news of the angels which had proclaimed that glory was joined with their experience of being in the presence of that very glory.

O holy Child of Bethlehem Descend to us, we pray

Cast out our sin and enter in Be born to us today

We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell

O come to us, abide with us Our Lord Emmanuel.

In His love,

Linda Faith

Treasured Christmas Memories

Today’s contribution to the Twelve blogs of Christmas is brought to us by Matthew Cheng!

I wanted to share one of my favorite and most treasured Christmas memories. This was back in 2011, when my family was visiting with my Grandma in London, Ontario. She had recently (a few months earlier) been hospitalized after a fairly nasty fall, so we were all there to celebrate Christmas with her. My Mom and her husband, my Sister and my 1 niece (and now I have 2 – they’re like Gremlins). Anyway, my then girlfriend now wife Guylaine was there too, as well as my Aunt/Godmother, and a couple Uncles and some more Aunts.

The point I’m trying to get to is that Christmas is awesome! I mean, beyond that though, that my Grandma was almost 90 years old at the time, and has been suffering from the usual memory problems that begin to creep up when your Hard Drive is pushing that wise old age (I apologize; some dark geek humor slipped in). Despite her slipping memory, however, when someone suggested that we should have a small, intimate Christmas service in Grandma’s residence suite with just us, my Anglican ordained Grandma of almost-90 years old didn’t seem to show any hesitation in stepping up and running a full Eucharist Christmas service virtually verbatim from somewhere preserved and hidden in a secret compartment in her mind (well, not hidden because we don’t hide, but you know what I mean).

My Mom took a video on her iPhone and emailed it to all of us. I still have it and watch it once in a while. Let me go fact-check it now…

…On further review, it seems my Grandma didn’t know the full service by heart, but she recited about half of it, and knew the page numbers of where to flip in the Book of Alternative Services (BAS) for the rest of it.

That was a really special Christmas to me, not just because it was with family, but it was the first time in maybe 10 years that I had spent it with Grandma. Our family is really big and scattered all across North America, and we’re often unable to get together really often, but thankfully we have Family Reunions every few years where we try and get as many of us together as we can for a week.

Now for a sobering thought: It’s been a few years since then, and Grandma is doing really well in some ways, but deteriorating in others. Her memory is going, and it’s a struggle to come to grips with the idea that we’re approaching what will be one of her final Christmases (Christmasi? Christmasies?) with us. Guylaine and I haven’t been with Grandma to celebrate Christmas since then, but have visited at other times of the year when we can. The sad reality that we face is, it’s difficult to plan time away for the 14-ish hour round-trip drive, and telephone calls are an almost-but-poor substitute.

This memory makes me feel many different things. I have to laugh at the memory, because it brings to mind many, many other memories of Reunions and Visits long past when Grandma was much more active and would get up to all sorts of mischief. I feel happiness that we could make it there that year to be all together (as many of us as we could gather). I feel a growing sadness as I look ahead to the coming years that I will have to face without her wisdom to look to, but at the same time, reassurance for what is awaiting her around that bend that I can’t see beyond.

This Christmas, I hope to create just a few more memories as strong and impactful as this one. Guylaine and I just spent a weekend with my Dad, his Wife, my Sister, her Husband, and my now-Two nieces (I mean, I now have two nieces, not that they are both Two—there are no twins). It was pretty crazy, and I’ve learned my youngest niece seems to love plushies that are a little bit creepy.

So, I guess, if this rambly storytime with Matthew has managed to not trail off into oblivion, I wonder what you think about your Christmas. What are you looking forward to? What has already happened, if your family is as weird as mine, and has to plan around the trips that your crazy parents go on after you’ve moved out of the house? What memories have you already made with friends and loved ones? What memories have yet to be made? And, maybe most importantly, how strong will those memories be 5 years down the line? 10? 15 years, even? Will you be doing something impactful and lasting this Christmas season (or just Christmas day, if your family is able to cram it all into one day because scheduling is just that easy sometimes)?

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’”

Luke 2:10, 11 (as read my Grandma Wheeler)

Essential Questions: What is the Incarnation?

canstockphoto22897058Christians believe that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.”  It is this miracle of the Incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas.  But what does this mean?

Incarnation is defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary as ” the embodiment of a deity or spirit in some earthly form.” Jesus, the creator of the earth, came to earth in human form.

Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  He was not conceived using two human parents.  Mary was the only biological parent of Jesus, even though Mary and Joseph raised him as their son.  (Matthew 1: 18-24)

In Luke 1, we are told that an angel appeared to Mary and told her that she would have a baby.  This idea was rather confusing to Mary as she was still a virgin.  The angel explained that ““The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”(Luke 1:35)

After conception, he spent time in Mary’s womb.  And then, Jesus was born  – like any other baby.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6-7)

If you have any been part of the birth of a baby, it can be hard to think about God coming to earth in this way.  We expect because Jesus is God that he would do something flashy.  Childbirth is messy and difficult for both the mother and the baby.  As a baby, you are coming from the warm comfort of your mother’s womb into a cold world where you have to breath air and eat externally.

Jesus didn’t have to come into the world as any other human.  He is all powerful.  He was the creator.  He could easily have done something flamboyant.  Instead Jesus chose to enter the world humbly, the same way as His created beings.

It is through His mother Mary that Jesus received his humanity at the moment of His conception.  His full divinity remained.  Jesus’ humanity and divinity were united making Jesus was both fully human and fully divine (Essential Questions:  Who is Jesus?) -the Incarnation of God in human form.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. …The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4,14)