Pastor Craig Carter
Several weeks ago I went to pick up my daughter, Abby, from work as she was unable to drive while she recovered from hip surgery. I was in Lynn Haven on 389 where it becomes 12th Street headed toward Highway 77. Suddenly traffic came to a standstill. Figuring there was a wreck or roadwork, I headed down a side street.
Looking for a way to get to my intended destination of Lynn Haven Elementary School, I was thwarted again and again as every cross street was blocked. Zigging and zagging as best I could, next thing I knew was being directed by cops who forced me to go north on 77 across the Bailey Bridge. That wasn’t what I had in mind when I diverted from my usual route!
I eventually realized what was going on – Highway 77 was closed for the Mosley homecoming parade. Already late to pick up Abby, I called and told her I couldn’t get there and she’d need to get a ride with someone or wait for her brother to get off work. I then decided to try and find my way back to our Fusion campus. Traffic was still stopped so I devised a serious of “shortcuts” to bypass the bottlenecks. To my dismay, however, I soon discovered that most of the east-west numbered streets don’t cross the bayou. I found myself right back where I started. Only now it was an hour later and my place in line was hundreds of vehicles behind where I would have been if I’d have stayed put initially.
It was a painful experience for me and my ego was severely damaged as I pride myself in always figuring out the shortest, quickest route (in Craig’s world, efficiency is king!) As a matter of fact, I’m always looking for short-cuts…and many of us are like that.
We want a painless way to get in shape, a sure-fire diet plan that lets us eat what we want, a faster way to clean the house, how to learn a foreign language while sleeping… The cold, hard truth is – there aren’t many short-cuts in life, are there?
In particular, the path to success is rarely an easy road to travel. The greatest scholars spend countless hours in the library, the greatest inventors invest their own money and give their lives to discover a breakthrough in the laboratory, the greatest athletes rigidly control their diets and offer their blood, sweat, and tears to win a gold medal.
Why should we think the Christian life is any different? The fact of the matter is – it isn’t! We may not like to talk about the price we have to pay to follow Jesus, but there is one and the Bible calls it, sacrifice.
We are currently in a sermon series on becoming great followers of Jesus. While it may seem arrogant to aspire to be considered a great Christian, we have discovered that striving for greatness should be the norm for every believer. That’s because we serve a great and mighty God who has made us to be like Him.
When we achieve greatness (by His definition, not the world’s), we bring glory to the Lord and are then able to accomplish the work God has given us to do.
We have observed that great Christians think great thoughts, dream great dreams, pursue great people, pray great prayers, enjoy great moments, leave a great legacy, and take great risks. Today we are going add another practice to the list: Great Christians Make Great Sacrifices.
Sacrifice has been a part of the lives of God’s people since the beginning of time. In the opening pages of the Bible, we find Cain and Abel offering sacrifices to the Lord. Then, when the Law was given to the nation of Israel, the concept of sacrifice was formalized.
In the Old Testament Book of Leviticus, the Israelites were instructed to carry out five types of sacrifices involving animals and produce. Two of them were required for everyone: sin and guilt offerings. Three were to be offered on a voluntary basis: burnt, grain, and peace. These freewill sacrifices were intended to be expressions of gratitude.
We learn from these categories that access to God requires sacrifice (to atone for sins) and fellowship with God grows through sacrifice. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the depth of the relationship. Think about how Abraham, friend of God, was willing to offer his son, Isaac.
This idea continues in the New Testament as Jesus said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way (deny yourself), take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 NLT). Then, in his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul makes the point explicitly clear: “So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him. Your offering must be only for God and pleasing to him, which is the spiritual way for you to worship.” (Romans 12:1 NCV)
It’s not enough to offer the Lord the fruit of our labors as the Israelites were required to do with their livestock and produce. No. God wants us! It’s as though we climb on the altar ourselves and offer all that we are and all that we have up to Him. That’s how we ultimately worship God – with our very lives.
It’s also the road to greatness. To be a Christian at all requires some degree of sacrifice – that’s what good Christians do. But to be a great Christian we have to make great sacrifices for the Lord. And the greater the sacrifice, the greater the fellowship with God.
In exploring this subject, I want us to think about what motivates great Christians. The key factors are found in the example of folks we honor this weekend – veterans. The men and women who proudly have served and currently serve our country know a lot about making great sacrifices. Folks with military experience, especially those who have served in combat, make great sacrifices and we can learn some important lessons from them.
Great Christians make great sacrifices and are motivated by…
1) Great Love
Why do soldiers, sailors, and airmen go where they go and do what they do? Is it because of the lavish salary they receive? Certainly not, it’s because of their love for country, their love for their fellow citizens, and their love for their brothers and sisters in arms. As a result, they are willing to make great sacrifices, endure tremendous hardships, and even risk their own lives.
They demonstrate the principle that Jesus once stated: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NLT)
Of course, the greatest example of that kind of love is our Lord Jesus Christ. He demonstrated God’s great love for every human being by making the ultimate sacrifice and giving His life on the Cross of Calvary.
If you want to discover who or what somebody really loves, all you have to do is observe what sacrifices they are willing to make.
Why do moms get up in the middle of the night to care for a sick baby? Because their husband is pretending to be asleep? No, because they love their child.
Why do hunters give up their sleep, sit in cold, damp conditions, and spend inordinate amounts of their hard-earned money on clothing and weapons? I don’t know either … but maybe it’s because of their love of hunting.
We all gladly make great sacrifices for who or what we love. And the degree of sacrifice corresponds to the amount we love the given object.
Great Christians demonstrate great love by making great sacrifices. If we love God a little, we’ll sacrifice a little for Him. But if we love Him a lot, there’s no limit to what we’ll do for Him and give to Him. And what do these great sacrifices look like?
Consider this list of “love sacrifices”:
- Time (How do you spell love? T-I-M-E; Great Christians spend time with the Lord in prayer, study, worship, etc.)
- Energy (giving God the best we have, not the leftovers)
- Money (how we spend our income reveals what/who we love)
- Desires (military service requires folks to sacrifice their desires for greater good)
- Dreams (parents give up their ambitions for the sake of their children’s)
I truly believe there are a lot of great Christians in the Lynn Haven United Methodist Church. They are people who give up their time, energy, money, desires and dreams in service to God and His people.
Are you aware that God loves you and God loves me so much He willingly sacrificed the very best thing He had? He gave Himself through His Son Jesus. Are you willing to climb on the altar and offer yourself as a living sacrifice to God? You are, if you truly love the Lord and know how much He loves you.
2) Great Calling
I entered the US Air Force Academy on June 28th. Know when my first classmates decided the military wasn’t for them? June 29th. It didn’t take them long to realize they didn’t want to sacrifice their sleep, hair (it was 1976), modesty (we had open bay showers), or self-respect (we were commonly called “maggots”). And that was just basic training.
Those who serve in the face of hostility and lay their lives on the line have to have a great calling. You won’t stay the course and make it a career if you’re doing it because of the paycheck, because of your parents, or because someone made you.
In a similar fashion, great Christians are willing to make great sacrifices because they realize they are following a great calling. As Paul states it, it’s because “God has shown us great mercy…” that calls us into a relationship. It’s what Jesus was saying when He told His listeners, “If any of you wants to be my follower…” And it’s why throughout His earthly life Christ “called” people to follow Him.
Those who see the Christian life as a divine calling understand the demands required. Jesus: “If you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost … You cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own. (Luke 14:27-28a, 33 NLT)
That Greek word translated, everything, is an interesting word. It means everything! Relationships, career, friends, place of residence, everything you and I hold dear.
Using Jesus’ own description, these sacrifices become the “crosses” we carry.
We commonly trivialize the concept and make inconsequential matters into “crosses” with statements such as “my arthritic knee” or “my nagging wife/difficult husband” “is the cross I bear.”
Crosses are those difficult things we choose to do because we belong to Christ. We take up our cross when we … inject Jesus into a conversation even though we’re afraid to do so, lend a listening ear to a friend when we’re in a hurry, get up and visit someone in the hospital when we’d rather stay home and watch TV, bite our tongue when a family member speaks evil of us, decide not to go on vacation so we can participate in a mission trip, etc.
Those sacrifices we make, small and large, are great in God’s eyes because they demonstrate our desire to follow Jesus no matter the cost.
Great Christians respond to a great calling and are willing to give everything as a result. And it’s not a once and for all sacrifice that is made. Jesus said we must take up our cross daily which caused Paul to say, “I die every day.” (1 Corinthians 15:31a NCV)
Are you willing to do that and become a daily living sacrifice?
3) Great purpose
Sacrifices are real, but the ultimate benefits are what make them worth the cost. For those who serve in the military the great purpose is to protect our freedom as Americans. With that purpose in mind, great sacrifices are made even in the face of great danger.
In a similar fashion, our sacrifices for the Lord are not ends in and of themselves. They are means that help us achieve a higher purpose. And what is that? Paul states it this way: “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him.” (Philippians 3:7-9a NLT)
Through our personal sacrifices we identify with the One who made the ultimate sacrifice and thus come to know Him and even become like Him. It’s what must happen if we truly want to “follow Jesus.”
So while the costs associated with following Jesus is a high price to pay since it requires us to make great sacrifices, it is absolutely worth it. Jesus once put it this way: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” (Matthew 13:45-46 NLT)
Let me close with this illustration: Imagine a little girl playing with a string of plastic beads. She loves and cherishes them; they’re her favorite possession. How would you feel if you offered her real pearls in exchange and she refused?
Logically, her attachment to the toy wouldn’t make any sense at all. But to her, those fake beads are everything and you can’t convince her otherwise, so she hangs on to them with a closed fist. However, one day, if she had only make the exchange she would be glad. She would possess something infinitely more valuable. And she’d wonder why it was a tough decision to give up what she had.
In America we have a hard time discerning what is really valuable. By and large, most of us live a pain-free existence and have a pretty comfortable lifestyle. So we hang on to our careers, our families, our ambitions, and our possessions as though they are the ultimate treasure. But God offers us so much more.
According to Jesus, there are great rewards, both in this world and in the world to come, promised to those who surrender everything to Him (see Mark 10:29-30).
But before we can grab hold of all that He has for us, we have to release what we currently hold in our hands. That’s why great Christians make great sacrifices.
“So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him. Your offering must be only for God and pleasing to him, which is the spiritual way for you to worship.” (Romans 12:1 NCV)
Are you willing to climb on the altar and say, “Lord, I surrender all?”
All of your time, all of your energy, all of your money, all of your desires, and all of your dreams. Not because you have to but because you love Jesus and have heard Him calling you to a higher purpose.
Maybe you contend you’ve already done that previously. I once heard another preacher say, “The problem with living sacrifices is they tend to crawl off the altar!”
So maybe you made a great sacrifice on another occasion, but you’ve reneged. Today would be a good day to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.
What great sacrifice (which might be large or small) is God asking you to make?
We sacrifice for God because God first sacrificed for us.