Sacrifice

Sacrifice of Giving

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[dropcap]J[/dropcap]esus talked a lot about giving.

When Jesus gave Himself, He didn’t hold back. He gave His energy, He gave His time and, ultimately, He gave Himself. If we are trying to follow His example as Christians then we shouldn’t do any less. The Bible says that there is a time to give, and there is a time to receive. Jesus reminds us that it is more blessed to give than it is to receive.

If Jesus hadn’t given Himself, what point would there be in us giving of ourselves? Jesus did give His all for us, even though we were ‘enemies of God’ and had done nothing to deserve His grace and generosity. We should therefore give back to Him and give to others in the same spirit, reflecting His attitude in our actions.

There are a number of different ways that we can give. Those who are earning pay tax, you can be a regular giver to the church or you can give of your life in other ways.

I just received my Annual Tax Summary letter. It shows how much tax I have paid in the last year and what it has gone towards. Jesus paid tax. ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’. When I pay my tax, I recognise that it’s important to do. It’s not something I have much choice about, but I recognise that God has placed me in a country where I have civil freedoms, rights and protections. These are in place because of those whom God places in positions of authority. Paying tax means that I am supporting the nation that I believe God has called me to be part of. It’s not just a number that’s deducted from my salary. It’s a way of doing God’s will for me.

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When I started earning a salary, I decided to give at least 10% to Christian work. This normally means a tithe to my local church, but it also includes supporting missionaries as well as first-fruits offerings to other ministries. There are some investments that my local church needs to make in the next year and they will need significant funds to do them. I believe in the mission of the church and I recognise the importance of supporting the work of God’s church in my local community. Giving financially is one way of doing this.

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Once, I felt quite strongly to give a significant gift to the church. It was a New Year’s Eve church service, and I made this a ‘first-fruits’ gift for the year. Within a few months of giving that gift, I had received 3 job offers and two pay rises. That wasn’t the reason that I gave to the church, I just did because I felt that it was what God wanted me to do. An apparent consequence of that obedience was a blessing I wasn’t looking for.

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What if I don’t have any spare money to give? How should I respond to Jesus’ generosity? One of the most poignant stories in the ministry of Jesus is about a poor widow – even though she had very little to give, she gave it all.

So Seek God. Whatever He has placed in your hand is yours to steward as He wants you to. It’s up to you how you spend your time, but giving kind words or empathising with somebody who is struggling doesn’t cost much money. It could make a huge difference in that person’s life though.

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We, as human beings, are made in the image and likeness of God. When we give ourselves to Him, we are returning what is already His. Giving is not just about the act of bestowing something from one person to another. It is a representation of giving ourselves. Our time, our energy, our possessions: these are all part of what we have access to that can be used to bless God and to do good to others. The Lord loves a cheerful giver.

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Sacrifice

Sacrifice: What’s the Point?

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[dropcap]S[/dropcap]acrifice isn’t exactly a buzzword. I don’t really hear about it in popular culture unless someone has done something really amazing. I do hear it a lot in church though, but I’m not sure I see it a great deal. It’s a great word to bounce around – it has some really deep connotations, but when it comes to actually doing it for yourself, I think it becomes a whole lot less popular. So even though I’ve often thought about sacrifice, I’ve not been willing to really think it through in personal terms.

Jesus defines sacrifice. Jesus offered himself as the greatest sacrifice. By dying he took on all the things that separated us from God and gave us the opportunity to get right with God. That’s a massive sacrifice. Its the way that God makes his love most known to us (Romans 5:8). I know all this, and sometimes just stand in absolute awe of what Jesus has done. But when it comes to translating that into actions – that bit just never really seems to get off the ground.

Recently I’ve recognised that a life of following Jesus means being actively prepared to live a life of sacrifice – gritty, selfless giving. The Bible talks about presenting our bodies as “living sacrifices”, not conforming to the standard of the world, but rather doing the will of God. What blew me out of the water was that God counted the way that I lived as worship. I had never seen sacrifice in those terms and it gave me a lot to think about how I lived and what needed to change.

 

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“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

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Sacrifice is contextual. God puts us in particular seasons of life, and this means we have the chance to sacrifice different things. Practically speaking, my current situation as a student means I’m stacked with deadlines, have little resources and little time. How then do I sacrifice? First and foremost, I’m called to offer my whole self: body, mind and spirit as a sacrifice. But, as I said – that’s not a simple task. It’s easy to say, but not really easy to put into action. I knew this was a real challenge, so in order to prepare for a life and lifestyle of sacrifice, I began small.

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First, I challenged myself to be more giving of my time. I began to use those times that were inconvenient as intentional opportunities to chat about the Gospel with my friends. It’s just a little step, but it meant that when the deadline was approaching and I got a knock on my door – I would open up and invite them in. When I was tired and wanted to be alone but a friend text me to hang out – I would go hang out. No one knew but myself, and it wasn’t an enormous sacrifice – but it really helped me get my priorities straight, it brought great opportunities to talk about Jesus and it helped me learn better dependence on God.

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Then I began to fast. Once a week, in the middle of the week I have a food fast for a day. This means going without food until right at the end of the day. Some days I wake up hyped, other days I’m less enthusiastic. But guaranteed, at the end of every fast day, I’m glad I did it. Throughout the day for five minutes each hour, I pause my work and take the opportunity to praise God for who he is and seek him for whatever I’ve recently been burdened for.

Jesus used to fast. So for me, it seemed a no brainer. Fasting helps me take seriously my battle with sin, my desire for friends to know Jesus, my relationships, and my future. The more I’ve fasted the more I’ve grown in passion for prayer and desire to seek God at work. It’s become a real personal help and it means that in the middle of the week I can re-orientate myself towards God and increasingly recognise my total dependency and need for him.

Taking these small steps has enabled me to begin to see what a lifestyle of sacrifice looks like. Consequently, as I’ve been asking God what I should do next in the years ahead, I’ve been increasingly drawn to things that before I would have thought were too difficult or too challenging. Its enabled me to actually desire and prepare for a life of sacrifice and service, rather than just pay lip service to the idea. This is the sort of life Jesus lived, and the radical way of living he invites us to live in response.

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Sacrifice

Sacrifice of Praise

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Praising God when times of difficulty are upon me is challenging. My emotions and thoughts are sometimes speaking louder than God’s voice. When circumstance and doubt shine brighter than the reality I know to be true I am disconcerted, terrified and confused. I know God loves me. He takes care of the birds. God provides all my needs according to his riches. How is it then that what I see and feel doesn’t match what I believe?

The Psalmist writes: “I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened.He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud.He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip. He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God. More and more people are seeing this:they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to God.”
Psalm 40:1-3 (MSG)

Over the past year I have had moments where I thought my life had little purpose or I had lost faith in thinking that God had a plan or even cared. These thoughts really got me down. I wasn’t especially depressed or anything like that. I was being human. It sounds somewhat melodramatic now, but it felt real at the time. I certainly had a sense of guilt and confusion as if the Lord was disappointed in me. But that guilt is not from God. Confusion is not from God. In His presence is the fullness of joy! There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.

Why was I feeling this way? Paul answers the question for me. He writes in Romans 7:19, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice”. This was bang on. I think this refers to a conflict endemic to mankind – the conflict that I could feel within myself! How do I bridge the gap between the spiritual and the carnal. Between the heart of Jesus, and the mind of man? Paul helped me see that the disconnect between what was happening in my mind and seeing what the heart of the Lord was. They were out of sync.

Ever heard that phrase ‘sacrifice of praise’? It comes from Hebrews 13:15 “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name”. Through these experiences I learnt that praising God is the best way to get out of a bad mindset. I was always taught by my mother that to give a ‘sacrifice of praise’ to the Lord in the moments when you really don’t feel like giving thanks. This has stuck with me and I’ve found it to be of great help.

A sacrifice of praise helps me out in two ways. Firstly, I remind myself of my identity – which is crucial. It helps me remember where I stand before God: Who am I?  – ‘I am a child of God’ (Galatians 3:26); What’s defines me? ‘I am the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Secondly, it reminds me of who God is – which is massively important! Knowing that it’s not all about me is really liberating! I listen to worship songs and remind myself of the times God has come through for me in the past. Sometimes just like the Israelites in the desert I suffer from short-term memory loss, and the stupidity of self-centredness. But God is faithful! He never leaves me nor forsakes me! His “never leaving nor forsaking me” is a product of God just being who he is. It’s me who has to change! Truly knowing this comes only when I re-orientate myself through praise, and recognise that he is at the centre.

Reminding myself of who God really is and giving thanks for that has often, in moments of despair, seemed counter-intuitive or even pointless. But it’s at these moments that I grow and learn to depend on God’s faithfulness and love more than ever. As a result, I find my mindset often changed. By offering my sacrifice of praise I start seeing, with faith, God’s spiritual reality replacing my earthly mentality.

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