This month shared a series just at Gateway South Campus called Fast Forward. Kenny Green and I desired to help each of us move forward faster in our own lives, but also to help us move forward faster as a campus, as a community.
Here are highlights from today’s message on “Embracing Sacrifice.”
This series is designed for you if you’ve ever the following ways:
- Ever find yourself stuck unsure where you should go?
- Ever feel like you are wandering around in circles?
- Ever feel like something good is right around the corner but you don’t know if you have the courage to proceed?
We are looking at how uncertainty, risk, change, and sacrifice should be embraced (rather than avoided) to help us make progress.
This goes against what we’ve been taught or what our culture seems to embrace. We tend to gravitate towards certainty, safety or comfort, the status quo, and selfishness rather than such challenging experiences like uncertainty, risk, change, and sacrifice!
Even though we will see that uncertainty, risk, change, and sacrifice are critical values in the Scriptures, those of us with a background in church have been raised to avoid these very important Kingdom values.
We have seen during this series that we move forward faster into the better future God has for us when we are willing to embrace uncertainty, risk, change, and sacrifice. These values are displayed in God’s character.
We can trust God because God’s character never changes, but the ways He moves changes all the time. He can be trusted because His heart remains the same.
The message never changes but the methods should be changing all the time.
We need God. God pursued us, and His name is Jesus. He lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and rose from the dead. To connect with God personally we acknowledge our need for Him and for Help. We need forgiveness and purpose and peace, and He offers this to us freely when we choose to follow Him, to trust Him, to turn from our ways and surrender to Him and His ways.
There is a moment in the Bible when Jesus summarizes the entire message of the Scriptures. Have you ever wondered what this ancient and huge book was all about? Ever wanted a Cliffs Notes version of the Bible?
So here it is: When asked for the greatest commandment Jesus said these words:
“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-39
To become who we were meant to be means having a healthy relationship with God and a healthy relationship with people. Our relationships affect every arena of our lives.
We were designed to experience meaningful, healthy, and life-giving relationships with God and with others, but we’ve allowed the inadvertent mistakes and the evil choices of others to keep this from happening. We’re not just victims. We have also hurt others – sometimes on accident but too often we’ve done so intentionally. In either case, we’ve created walls as a result of our painful moments, our pride, and our prejudice.
To break down these walls we need to learn to love God and love people. These two truths are interconnected. Jesus was asked for one commandment and he gave us two. You and I cannot truly love God unless we also love people. Some of us forget that. We get caught up in wanting to learn more about God for what He can do for us. Some of us love to sing to God because of how it makes us feel. Some of us get caught up in a selfish relationship with God where it’s just about me and Him. In reality, that’s not a healthy relationship with God at all. We trick ourselves into thinking we don’t need a church at all or going on Sunday once a week is all we need. We trick ourselves into thinking we don’t need community or even that we don’t need people. A healthy relationship with God points us towards healthy relationships with people.
You and I cannot truly love God unless we also love people, and let’s be honest, you and I cannot truly love people without God’s help because people can be hard to love.
For some of us our next step towards healthy relationships is a renewed effort to connect to God. For others of us, we need to ask God to guide us in connecting better with others. Which is it for you? In either case, live knowing that our relationships with people affect our relationship with God and vice versa.
Even though you know the Cliffs Notes version of the Bible, there is still a very good reason to read it, to study it, and most importantly to apply what you discover in the Bible to your life. The Bible is filled with case studies on how to Love God and how to Love people.
So how do we do love God?
A theme used throughout the Scriptures is the idea of “sacrifice” – a word that was used in some form 339 times.
“In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” – Hebrews 9:22
Not just in the Hebrew Scriptures also known as the Old Testament, but across the planet to this day, the very religious offer sacrifices to their gods. To appease an angry god, goats, bulls, calves, you name it are killed to bring forgiveness. In some cultures, even their very own children are sacrificed to bring favor from god.
So what makes Christianity different than all other religions?
Only in Christianity does God make a sacrifice to get to us.
In the very beginning Adam and Eve chose to rebel from God. As a result, for the first time in their lives and for the first time on our planet, they felt shame. To cover their shame, God sacrificed an animal to make clothes for them to cover themselves. This was a foreshadowing of the Great Sacrifice to come.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, you see ceremonial and sacrificial laws. If you commit this type of sin, then this type of sacrifice needs to be made. This was a foreshadowing of the Great Sacrifice to come.
Now this was quite common in that day, but the God of Israel was different.
A tremendous example of this came when Abraham who had waited for decades to have a child named Isaac. Listen to this moment in Abraham’s life from Genesis 22.
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspringall nations on earth will be blessed,because you have obeyed me.” – Genesis 22:1-18
Your first thoughts might be: “How barbaric! How could God trick Abraham like this?”
Moments like this happened all the time in the ancient world and all the time today – just in different ways. We sacrifice our children’s hearts and their souls and in some places their very lives because of our own selfishness or brokenness or destructive tendencies.
God wanted to demonstrate He was very different than what the people thought.
When you read this story, you can just feel the angst and the fear. What was Abraham feeling? How was Isaac feeling in that moment when his dad started tying him up? What a horrible moment! This was one father-son trip gone horribly wrong! I can only imagine Isaac was thinking this was the last trip he ever went on with his dad!
There was a moment in the story when Abraham pointed out the true nature of God’s character to his son. At the time in the story, he may have been lying to Isaac to protect him or he may have been saying it outloud as a prayer:
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide….”
Abraham believed in a God who could be trusted because He believed in a God who will provide. He provides in ways we cannot always imagine or at the time we were just about to give up. He can be trusted!
Do you trust God? Do you look to him when you are in need? Do you see God as one worthy of sacrifice?
My mentor and good friend Erwin McManus, lead pastor at Mosaic in Los Angeles used to say:
“The context of the miraculous is sacrifice.”
Abraham would have never seen God provide in a miraculous way had he not been willing to sacrifice.
What miracle are you missing because you aren’t willing to sacrifice something you are holding onto?
The people of Israel made sacrifices to God all the time. This was a foreshadowing of the Great Sacrifice to come, but they were doing it wrong. They followed the letter of the law, but they did it out of obligation not because it was their heart’s desire.
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. – Proverbs 21:3
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. – Hosea 6:6
Are you here today out of obligation? Are you motivated to read the Bible out of guilt? Are you struggling to stay connected with God?
God does not want religion! He wants a relationship!
But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Jesus in Matthew 9:13
Jesus pursued us and became the ultimate sacrifice for us so that we might have life! Blood no longer needs to be shed because God did not spare His Son for us but gave His Son to connect us with Him and with each other.
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? – Romans 8:32
Because he gave all for us, we are invited to do the same!
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. – Romans 12:1
To love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength means letting go of our lives and trusting Him fully. It means we die to ourselves in order to truly live!
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20
To love God means to become a living sacrifice for Him – to die to our self to love Him and love others.
Loving others is hard!
To discover how to break through the walls we’ve created due to the pain we’ve experienced, let’s look at a case study from the Bible.
A church in the Bible was in the midst of such a divisive argument that they were planning to sue each other. Paul had to set things straight and help them re-calibrate their priorities.
The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.” 1 Corinthians 6:7-8
Have you ever been wronged? Have you ever been cheated? In other places, the Scriptures are clear: there are times when we need to lovingly confront those that have hurt us so that they can see the error of their ways and ask for forgiveness, and there are other times when we need to drop everything, stop what we are doing, and go to the person who we have wronged to ask for forgiveness. But according to this passage, there are also times when we need to forgive even if they never ask us.
Maybe you are like me. When I hear these questions, forgiving isn’t the first idea that comes to mind. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Because I don’t want to be! I deserve better! No one is going to treat me like that!
What helps me in those moments of pain is to consider things from a different perspective.
Gratitude is being thankful for what we have and not mad about what we don’t have. We would rather be right than make things right.
We need people – even though they hurt us and we hurt them.