Forgiveness changes things. In my previous post, I explained the struggle I have with even wanting forgiveness. Now that I recognize the great blessing of forgiveness, it has changed my relationship with God. It has changed my religion. It has changed my spirituality. It has changed why I do what I do for the Lord. Let me explain. [Read more…] about I’m Forgiven! Now What?
(If you landed on this post without seeing the others in this series, let me explain what is going on here. Thursdays is my day to talk about God’s way for our congregations. Right now I’m in the middle of a series on the Jerusalem church and it’s success. This is the eighth post in the series. I encourage you to check out the introduction to this series to know more about what is going on and to find an index of the posts in this series as they are put up. Enjoy.)
Personal Sacrifice not Communism
For some strange reason, people keep trying to read modern politics into the Bible or find defense for modern political idealogies in the Bible. The fact is the Bible is not a political book. Jesus wasn’t trying to impact governments. He was trying to impact individuals. We seem to forget that Christianity was birthed under imperialism and not once did Jesus, Peter, or Paul tell Christians to do a single thing about that except pray for the governing officials (I Timothy 2:1-2).
But, because so many want to find politics in the Bible, they cherry pick passages without considering them in their real context. For instance, supporters of Communism love to bring up Acts 2:44-45.
“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were sellign their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
“There it is,” we are told, “the first Christians were Communists.” That couldn’t be farther from the truth. According to Isms: A Compendium of Concepts, Doctrines, Traits and Beliefs from Ableism to Zygodactylism*communism is “a social system characterized by government ownership of the means of production and organization of labor by a coercive bureaucracy.” Thus, if the early church was communistic, the church would own the communal property. But that is not at all what happened.
Sadly, we learn the truth of this matter from a dreadful sin committed by Ananias and Sapphira. These two conspired together to trick the congregation. They sold some land for one price, but told the congregation they had sold it for a lower price. Then they kept the difference for themselves. They were judged harshly by God for their deception.
However, notice what Peter said to them in Acts 5:3-4.
“But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?”
When people became Christians, ownership of their property did not transfer to the church. The group did not own the individuals property or take control of it. The group did not get to decide what to do with it. Had Ananias wanted to, he could have kept his land. After he sold it, he could have kept some of the profits and given only what he wanted. It was all completely under his control.
If this wasn’t Communism, what was it? It was individuals sacrificing for each other because they were part of a new group. Christians were caring for each other not because some commune became owners of their property and decided to care for its members. Christians as individuals were deciding to make personal sacrifice to give to the church that it might care for those of its number that were in need.
If we are going to have the Jerusalem vision, we are not going to envision a commune. We are not going to envision church control of our property or communal gathering of our goods. But we will envision members caring so much for each other that they sacrifice personally to care for each other. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a group that cared for each other like that?
(Make sure you come back next week as we wrap up this look at the Jerusalem Vision noticing that they were not problem free but committed to overcoming problems.)
*Yes, that is an associate link. I thought you might be interested in doing your own research on Isms sometime. Enjoy.
Yes, you read the title of this post properly. I’ve decided I’m going to quit trying to go to heaven and I urge you to do the same. This has been a bit of a process for me. I’ve been struggling with this concept of going to heaven for a while now, but I’ve finally come to a conclusion.
I can’t do it, so why bother. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get myself to heaven. I can assemble with the saints every time the doors are open. I can give all my money into the collection and anything that is left over to the poor. I can sing all the songs as beautifully and meaningfully as possible. I can avoid big sins like adultery, murder, homosexuality. I can work on the sins I’ve struggled with like lust, angry outbursts, materialism. I can teach a person the gospel every day. I can build a huge tower reaching up to the heavens. It doesn’t matter. I can’t get myself to heaven. In fact, when I do all of that, it seems more like I’m just trying to make a name for myself.
So, I’ve decided to quit trying. I’m giving up on trying to go to heaven. If I go to heaven, it will be because God decided to take me there. I’ll leave my eternal destiny up to His decision. I’m no longer going to try to manipulate His decision.
Instead, today I’m going to work on connecting to God, getting closer to Him, and glorifying Him. Why would I do anything else? This is the God who created a world perfectly suited for me to live. This is the God who gave me life and a body (and the more I learn about this body, the more amazed I am at God’s wisdom and majesty). This is the God who has given me food every day of my life. This is the God who has clothed me. This is the God who has provided me shelter. This is the God who has given me family and friends. More than all of this, however, this is the God who sent His Son to die for me that I could be forgiven of the horrendous sins I’ve committed. This is the God who sacrificed His Son not only so I could be forgiven, but so I could be set free from the enslavement of my sins. This is the God who is sanctifying me and making me righteous because I hunger and thirst for that. How could I do anything but get connect, get closer, and glorify Him? I love Him. How could I not? Look at how He has loved me.
On a practical level, here are ten things this means for me today.
- I’ll walk in God’s presence. I know that sounds kind of ethereal, but it actually means something very practical to me. I’m going to work on constantly remembering God is with me. While that means I’ll have a specified time of prayer, it also means I’ll strive to carry on a conversation with the God who is right beside me holding me up all the way. As victories occur, I’ll thank Him. As struggles arise, I’ll retreat into Him. As the need for decisions arise, I’ll petition His wisdom. As I pursue the ways today lays before me, I’ll acknowledge God for His power and providence in my life. As I walk through my day, I’ll talk to Him.
- I’ll abide in God’s word. Again, that sounds ethereal but means something very practical for me. It means first of all that I’ll spend time in God’s word. I’ll read it. But more than that, I’ll give attention to what I’ve read; I’ll think about and meditate on what I’ve read. I’ll strive to pick at least one thing out of what I’ve read with which to examine myself and see if I’m in the faith because I’m living what God said. I’ll hide God’s word in my heart. I’ll study deeply to understand God’s will and know God’s mind. Is there any better way to get to know God than get deeply involved in what He is saying to me?
- I’ll love my wife as Christ loves the church. Gary Thomas’s Sacred Marriage (be careful, if you click that link, it will take you to Amazon.com and if you purchase something while there, you will be helping me out financially) helped me grasp Ephesians 5:22-33 on a deeper level. I’ve learned that nothing will help me become like Christ more than my relationship with Marita. Therefore, nothing can glorify God more than how I approach that relationship. When I love Marita as Jesus loved the church, I proclaim for the world His love. So, I’ll talk to her with love, not disrespectful judgment. I’ll make thoughtful requests, not selfish demands. I’ll bring peace to our relationship, not angry outbursts. I’ll fulfill her needs by the grace and strength of God.
- I’ll love my children and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. How I treat my children today demonstrates to the world what I think about God and what kind of Father He is. No doubt, it teaches my children how to view God. Let’s face it, if nothing else, it teaches my children how to view God. There is little else I can do to glorify God more than to strive to father as He does.
- I’ll resist the devil. James 4:7-8 demonstrates that resisting the devil goes hand in hand with drawing near to God. Based on my understanding of God’s will, I’ll resist the traps of the tempter, trusting in God’s way of escape and His grace and strength to see me through the battle.
- I’ll talk to others about God’s things. I’m doing it now through this blog. With my friends and family, while we may talk about the weather, we may talk about sports, we may talk about politics, I will make sure to make God’s things part of my conversation. I may talk about what I’ve studied in God’s word today. I may talk about God’s blessing in my life. I may talk about the gospel’s power to save to someone who is lost. I may talk about my decision to quit trying to go to heaven and just striving to connect to God.
- I’ll praise God. Perhaps this is just an extension of walking in God’s presence. But while typing this I looked out the window and saw three or four different kinds of birds. It just amazes me the intricacy and detail with which God has created our world. I want to praise Him for the red birds, blue birds, yellow birds, and black birds I’ve seen. I want to praise Him for the trees in my yard. I want to praise Him for the rain that continues the cycle of life. I want to praise Him for the seasons that are turning the leaves into hues of orange, yellow, gold, vermillion. I want to praise God for the coffee beans that have been roasted, ground up, and brewed and are now sitting next to my computer warming and refreshing me. I want to praise God for giving me the brethren with whom I ate on Saturday and Sunday, the friends and family with whom I played games over the weekend. I need to stop the list now or this point alone will dominate the post. I think you get the picture.
- I’ll serve others. I can’t help but think of the song “Make Me A Servant.” “Make me a servant, just like Your Son. For He was a servant. Please make me one.” If I get outside myself, sacrificing myself for others, I become more like God. What a glory that points toward Him, especially as I point others to Him as the motivation for my service. Of course, that will only be when they find out that I’m the one serving. To give God the glory, I’ll strive to keep the right hand from knowing what the left is doing. I won’t be out for credit. I’ll be serving because that in itself is a reward.
- I’ll spend time with God’s family. I can say this easily today because my family has been invited to another family’s house to have supper. While this may not be something I can do every day, it is something I’ll work on. After all, if I want to draw near to God, one of the best ways to do it is to draw near to God’s children.
- I’ll attend tonight’s assembly of the Franklin Church. This is obviously a very practical one for me today. It just so happened that I’ve made the decision to quit trying to go to heaven during the week the congregation I’m part of is having a special series on “Connecting and Conquering.” However, tonight, I’m not going to go because there is some rule about attending. Tonight, I’m not going to go because I’m the preacher and have to. Tonight, I’m not going to attend because the speaker is one of my best friends. Tonight, I’m going to attend because what could draw me closer to God and glorify Him more than meeting with other Christians to edify each other, praise God, and learn from His word as one of His children shares the fruit of his study of God’s word?
I could go on, but I hope you get the point. Today, I’m going to put my eternal destiny in God’s hands. I’ll let Him decide what to do with me for eternity. I’m no longer trying to manipulate Him, impress Him, or earn anything from Him. Today, I just want to get close to Him. I hope as I spend time with Him, I’ll see you hanging around with us.
(If you need to know what this is all about, start with the first post in the series and click through the succeeding links. Also, as posts are added links will be placed in that first post to each one.)
Today, I want to…
Sacrifice Something Worth Giving Up
I can hear the groans now, “Edwin, you’ve already asked us to give something worth getting, what more do you want?” I want to go to the next level. I want to sacrifice something worth giving up.
The Bible story of David at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite in II Samuel 24 comes to mind. David had violated God’s law and God was punishing the people. However, Gad the prophet told David if he raised an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah, He would cease the punishment. When David explained the situation to Araunah, the Jebusite was willing to give David the threshing floor, the wood for the fire, and the oxen to offer. But David said, “I will not offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” It is not a sacrifice unless you are giving up something.
Do not be satisfied with the sacrifices of others. Do not say, “Let their money be given. Let their time be taken. Let their lives be spent. I want to hang on to me and my stuff.” When you stand idly by while others sacrifice, you are not giving anything up. Sacrifice is the means by which we realize life and the work done within it is worth something.
For American society, this is a tough challenge to offer. Many of us were raised by parents who said, “I want to give you all that I didn’t have.” They then handed over schooling, clothing, food, games, gizmos, gadgets, cars and so much more. Oh, they gave lectures about how much all this was worth. They talked about the value of a dollar. They got mad when the kids mistreated something given to them. But so few among us ever learned the value of something because we simply didn’t have to sacrifice.
Too few among us were taught the value of anything in life by having to sacrifice to get anything. That is why consumer debt in American continues to increase. According to MSN Money, the average household consumer debt is $18,654. On average, Americans spend 22% more than they make each year. We haven’t learned to sacrifice; we’ve only learned to get.
If you really want to learn the value of life and everything that is part of it, start sacrificing. Don’t put your vacation on your credit card. Instead, cut back on your eating out, your clothing, your weekly entertainment, and save the money. Suddenly, it starts to smart. That is sacrifice.
And yet, this is really the very smallest form of sacrifice. This is simply sacrificing something we want for something we want more. If we find it so hard to sacrifice in this way, no wonder we find it hard to sacrifice for others. No wonder we find it hard to sacrifice when we have no prospect of getting anything in return.
Sacrificing For Others
Sadly, we are so quick to accept the sacrifices of others for us, but find it hard to sacrifice ourselves for them. For instance, how would you feel if you had a friend that called you up and said, “I’m painting houses now, and I saw yours could use some help. I’ll be happy to come do that for you. And I really think this can be great. Since you’re such a good friend, I know you won’t mind paying me double my usual fee since times are tough for painters right now”? I imagine you’d waste no time explaining to your friend that if you decide you want your house painted, you’ll be looking at competitive pricing. You would be within your rights to do so. However, I bet you would think nothing of calling up the same friend and saying, “I hear you’re painting houses, and mine could sure use some help. But times are tough right now, and since you’re such a good friend, I was wondering if you could cut me a discount.” Do you see how quickly we look for others to sacrifice and how slowly we are to sacrifice ourselves?
We all want the sick to be helped, but who will sacrifice some time to go help them? We all want more money to go to research cures for cancer, but who will sacrifice from their own budget to do so? The fact is all these things take sacrifice. Are you willing to sacrifice something worth giving up to fill the gap?
The Ultimate Sacrifice
Perhaps the greatest example of sacrifice we call to mind today is that of Jesus Christ. Even if you are not a Christian, surely you can at least appreciate the story of His great sacrifice. Yet, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross might seem a bit extreme for most of us. We feel we could never measure up to that. How about looking at another story of sacrifice in His life? A storyis recorded in John 13. Jesus, who was the master of this small band of disciples, heard His followers arguing about who was the greatest. Instead of blasting them for not honoring Him as the greatest, He laid aside His outer garments, girded Himself with a towel, and then washed the disciples feet. He washed every one of them. He washed Peter’s feet even though Peter argued with Him and was going to deny Him. Even more amazing, He washed Judas’s feet. He washed the very heels that would be lifted up against Him and cause His death.
This is really the ultimate sacrifice for us. Many of us are willing to sacrifice money to some cause. Some are willing to sacrifice time. Are you willing to sacrifice yourself? Are you willing to lower yourself? Are you willing to set aside your reputation? Jesus sacrificed His place as head of this table and lowered Himself to perform the task of slaves for His students. Can you sacrifice yourself in this way? Sadly, some folks have completely missed the point of this example. They have acted as if they can go through some ceremony of washing feet and by doing so they are showing themselves to be like Jesus. Oh no. This isn’t about washing feet. This is about serving. This is about lowering yourself to declare others are more important than you by spending yourself in their service. If you want to show yourself a sacrificing servant, don’t wash their feet, cut their grass, clean their house, wash their car. That kind of selfless service is the ultimate sacrifice. And please note, the disciples didn’t even say, “Thanks.”
Sacrifice and Our Relationship With God
I can’t conclude a look at sacrifice without remembering Paul’s comments about sacrifice in Romans 12:1. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (NKJV). How can we talk about sacrifice without talking about our relationship with God? Sadly, all too often we treat God the same way we do everyone else. We are very quick to accept His sacrifice, but then we do everything we can to weasel our way out of any sacrifice He may ask of us. Whole doctrines have been created to explain how God asks practically nothing of us. It is vogue today to speak of God as the loving benefactor who doesn’t expect anything out of us but just to give Him a great big I-love-you hug. As long as we just praise, worship and give Him the glory, He’ll be happy with us. So we’re often told.
Mohandas Gandhi was right when he listed “worship without sacrifice” as one of the root causes of violence. We all want to talk about what a great God we serve. We wall want to praise Him. We all want to worship Him. How many of us want to sacrifice ourselves to Him? How many want to surrender our wills to Him? We want to talk about how great Jesus’ sacrifice is. Do we want to sacrifice ourselves back?
Sacrifice Something Worth Giving Up
Sacrifice is no mean feat. It is no small goal. However, without it we have no idea the value of anything. We have no idea the value of stuff, we have no idea the value of relationships, we have no idea the value of work, and we have no idea the value of God.
Today, let’s sacrifice something worth giving up.
(Come back next Wednesday for a look at Going Somewhere Worth Seeing.)
I posted this video on my congregation’s website last week. It moves me so much, I wanted to put it here as well. I hope you enjoy and are moved by your spiritual springboard today.