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Showing posts with label Sacrifice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sacrifice. Show all posts

Monday, October 25, 2021

Love Endures Forever

Introduction
How do you know if someone is really a Christian?  What evidence that proves it?

If you asked 10 different people, you might get 10 different answers.

Some might say, “You know someone’s a real Christian if they pray for someone and actually heal them or prophecy about the future and have it come true.  That’s a real Christian.”

Others might say, “A real Christian reads their Bible and knows what it all means.  They can explain how Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. They are a real Christian because they know Christian doctrine.”

Another person might argue, “No.  It all comes down to faith.  It is only by faith that a person is a real Christian.”

Yet another person might retort, “Yeah, but what about good works?  People must do good and give to the poor and help the needy.  That shows they’re a real Christian.”

Someone else would say, “Yeah but what about the martyrs?  Someone who dies for their faith, surely that’s undisputable evidence they are a real Christian—the best Christian of all.”

The members of the 1st Church of Corinth were arguing about these things.  In fact, some were saying, “I’m a better Christian than you, because I can do this or I’ve done that…”  And in answer, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, and we find a good summary of Paul's response in 13:1-3.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

So Paul says it’s not supernatural power, it’s not knowledge of the Bible, it’s not doing good or being good, it’s not even dying as a martyr for your faith that proves you’re a Christian. Paul says, it all comes down to love.  Love is what proves you are truly a Christian.  When the love of God lives in you and you love others, that’s proof you are a Christian.

But the kind of love we’re talking about is not necessarily the type of love the world talks about.  So Paul goes on to explain what God’s love is like—the kind of love we are to have and show.  And today, I want to finish our series on Paul’s words about love from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  Today, we learn that love endures forever.

1 Corinthians 13:1-7
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Endurance
One of my church members, Kate Roberts, achieved a personal record at her cross country race this weekend in South Carolina.  Cross country racing is an endurance sport.  The runners push themselves to their physical limits racing long distances, competing as a team.  They train their bodies everyday to endure the pain and strain of physical exhaustion from running 3 to 6 miles as fast as they can.  I think Kate was able to run 3.1 miles in less than 20 minutes this weekend.

Endurance is the ability to withstand hardship or adversity.  How in the world does endurance belong in a definition of love?  If you are young and "in love" you tend to focus on all the ways the person you "love" makes you feel good.  When you've been married a long time, you understand much better about the "endurance" element of love.

Of course, I hope by now in this series, you understand that real love (God’s love) is not about how someone makes us feel.  Love is not a mere emotion or a pleasure we derive because we like being around someone.  Love is a gift we give to others regardless of whether we get anything at all in return.  And sometimes love—real love—has to endure many things we don’t like about others.

As a parent, I can tell you I didn’t enjoy it at all the time I took my young kids to see a movie and one of them got sick and threw up on me.  And I had to take one kid to the bathroom and get her cleaned up.  I had a change of clothes for her in the diaper bag, but not for me!  So I had to wear that filth all the way home while trying to comfort a sick child.  Yeah, that was not fun and I didn’t like it at all.  But I loved my child and cared for her.  I “endured” the disgust and discomfort of “wearing” vomit soaked clothing until I could gather up my kids and get them home, cleaned up, and then clean myself up.

But that was just a hour or so of endurance.  I think about my own Mom’s enduring love over the years with me and my siblings.  I know we have all done many things to disappoint her and even break her heart at times.  Yet she has endured.  Now, as my mother is growing older and her health is declining, we are taking loving care of her more and more (especially my older brother and younger sister, because they live closest to her).

Redefining Romantic Love
As I have told you in previous blogs, 1 Corinthians 13 wasn’t originally written about the romantic love between a husband and wife.  Yet this passage is often read at weddings, because it is such relevant advice for newlyweds. 

Our society is infatuated with the concept of romantic love.  Unfortunately, popular culture—through movies and music—has degraded the idea of romantic love to be all about how a person makes us feel.  We have taken the greatest godly virtue of all and turned it upside down.  Love in the world is not about selfless sacrifice, but about deriving pleasure at the expense of the person we “love”.

It is no wonder that so many people experience broken relationships, broken marriages, and are extremely confused and scarred when it comes to romantic love.  Our culture has created an idealized fantasy about love that does not exist, and when people fail to achieve or maintain the “feeling” of love, they feel cheated, become disillusioned, are broken-hearted, and wonder “why can’t I just find true love like everyone else?”  

Can you imagine how it would revolutionize the world and our romantic relationships if the prevailing notion of love became the biblical view of love?  If it wasn’t about how another person made you feel, but about how we gave ourselves to one another sacrificially? 

Ironically, you are more likely to find “feelings” of love more often when you stop chasing them.  When you give yourself to your spouse sacrificially, you are more likely to have romantic feelings.   And when the husband and wife are both loving each other sacrificially, they will both likely feel more intense attraction to each other. 

God’s Enduring Love
Now I want you to consider the never-ending, enduring eternal love of God for the world.
God created the universe and everything in it—the stars in the sky, the land and the sea, the plants and animals and us.  In sacrificial love, God gave us life.

When humanity broke God’s heart by turning against Him, He didn't give up; God continues to love us because His love endures forever..  God made ways to protect us—even protecting us the best He could from our own sin, while still allowing us the freedom to choose how we live.  People often get frustrated or angry with God because bad things happen to them or God.  God didn't cause those bad things.  We cause them by our sin (or they were caused because humanity has been wrecking God's perfect creation for thousands of years).  It is a miracle of God's love that we are still here and haven't completely destroyed ourselves and that God has still preserved our freedom to choose how we live.  Unfortunately, our choices cause a lot of hurt and suffering, but God still preserves us through HIs enduring love.

4,000 years ago, God chose a man of faith named Abraham to begin the process of saving the world—even saving you.  4,000 years ago.  Think about how long ago that is.  The American Revolution was 245 years ago.  That seems like a long time to a lot of us, but it is only a blip on the timeline of God's love story told in the Bible.  4,000 years ago, God was thinking about you and working to save you when He called Abraham to begin the rescue mission for humanity.

Even when Abraham’s descendants were slaves in Egypt 600 years after Abraham, God's love endured and He kept working through the Israelites to save the world.  God used Moses to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

3,000 years ago, God made David the king of Israel and said, “I will raise up one of your descendants… I will secure his royal throne forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13)  God was talking about Jesus, who is David's great great great... grandson.

Jesus was born 2,000 years ago.  He lived as the perfect lamb of God, without sin or blemish.  He gave his life sacrificially to atone for our sin (showing God’s perfect, unconditional love for you and me).

Through all of these thousands of years, God’s love endures.  We've given God a million reasons to give up on us, but He hasn't and He won't.  God is hoping beyond hope that people will finally hear Him calling and turn from their sins, receive His love, and be saved.

And God is hoping beyond hope that we will all start to love God and love our neighbor just as Jesus did and that our love will endure in every circumstance because real love endures forever.

My mission, the reason I’ve devoted my life to work as a pastor, is so that more and more people will turn to God and receive His love and in turn love others the way God loves us.

1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!”
All the things in this world we think are so important now will pass away. 
It won’t matter what kind of clothes we wear, or the car we drive, or which house we lived in.
It won’t matter which flag we saluted or whether we were democrat or republican.
It won’t even matter if the Braves won the world series in 2021.

1 Corinthians 13:12-13 says, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that [we] know now is partial and incomplete, but then [we] will know everything completely, just as God now knows [us] completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I Have a NEW Mind!

Copyright April 28, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Romans 12:1-3

Introduction 
           I was in the choir room with the choir warming up for our anthem just a few minutes ago.  Sarah asked if anyone had accidentally picked up her reading glasses from the piano.  Kathy, who'd just been sitting at the piano and was holding a pair of reading glasses in her hand said, "No.  I promise. these are my reading glasses."  Kathy's sister, Sally, said, "Uh, Kathy.  You have a pair of reading glasses on your head!"  Sure enough, she did!  And they were the exact same style as Sarah's!  Kathy Said, "I'm losing my mind!"  We all had a good laugh.
            We use that expression, "I'm losing my mind," as a bad thing.  But the truth is, if we follow Christ, we are losing our old mind and Christ is giving us a NEW mind.  And that's what I want to talk about today. 

Romans 12:1-3
1And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

Explain the Passage
          The Apostle Paul gives us the image of a sacrifice placed on an altar.  At the time Paul wrote, animal sacrifice was a common religious practice—for both Jews and Gentiles.  A living animal was usually placed on an altar, its throat cut so the blood would drain out along with the animal’s life.  Then the animal would be butchered, cooked over fire, and eaten, or completely incinerated with fire.  As you can imagine, it was a startling thing to behold—something that left a lasting impression.  The point is a sacrifice was complete and irrevocable.  Right?  You can’t make half a sacrifice.  You can’t make a sacrifice and then take it back.  It’s an all or nothing proposal.  (At least for the animal!)
            But Paul turns the tables on us.  He invites us to leave the animals alone.  Instead, he urges us to put our life on the altar.  Give your own body—all that you are—as a living sacrifice.  It’s not human sacrifice he is asking; it’s self-sacrifice.  It’s surrendering all that you have and all that you are to the will of God.  It’s an “all-in” whole-hearted proposition that is true worship—truly pleasing to God—and it changes everything.
            It’s what Jesus did for us, you see.  Christ gave himself completely for us on the cross.  He didn’t just do some good things.  He didn’t just preach some great sermons.  Jesus gave everything.  He was whole-heartedly committed to God’s plan of salvation for you.  He willingly sacrificed his entire life for you—even when it meant dying on a cross.
            And Christ’s sacrifice makes it is possible for us to be made NEW!  We can have NEW desires, a NEW way of thinking, a NEW purpose in life, NEW peace and joy and confidence, and ultimately the promise of eternal life with a NEW heaven and a NEW earth.  But in order for the NEW to come, we have to let the old die.  In fact, we have to trust Jesus enough to place our old self—our old ways of thinking and living—on the altar as a sacrifice.  For when you sacrifice our old life, Jesus will make you NEW!

Thought Transformation
The key verse for us today is verse 2a – Don’t copy the behavior and customs of the world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Most of us grow up copying the behavior and customs of the world.  We do the things people around us do because we think the way they do.  In fact, if we ever see someone who acts or thinks in a way that in noticeably different, we might even call them weird.  I know when I was in high school, I had a few friends who lived out their Christian beliefs very faithfully.  At the time, I thought they were very weird because they didn’t act and talk and think the way most high school students did.  They stood out.  They were “weird.”  At the time, I thought they should just “copy the behavior and customs” of everyone else.  Now I see they were the minority that was really doing what God wanted.  Now I wish I had been part of that minority when I was in high school.  Now, I am—or at least I am striving to be—because I am striving to let God transform me into a NEW person.  So what if it makes me different.  So what if it makes me weird.  If it makes me more like Christ, great!
We all need to let God transform the way we think.  Romans 12:3 says, Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”  So let’s apply this wisdom and think clearly and honestly about ourselves.
First of all, you are not the center of the world.  Regardless of what the unbelieving world insinuates, the world doesn’t revolve around you.  You are not entitled to “Have it your way.”  Your own personal happiness is not the chief goal in life.  In fact, if you faithfully follow Christ and live for God the way He intended for you, you will definitely need to give up some things you want.  It is a sacrifice.  (Remember how our scripture said to sacrifice yourself to God?)  Following Christ means letting go of our selfish desires, our self-centered motives, and serving others instead of ourselves.  This is tough for many people, but we need to let God transform our way of thinking.
Some people think too highly of themselves.  Others struggle with thoughts that they are not important or that they are not good enough.  That’s why I like Romans 12:3 so much.  It addresses both misunderstandings.  It says, “Be honest in you evaluation of yourself.”  And the Truth is, (though you are not the center of the world) you are very important to God.  God deeply loves you.  He has been working out your salvation since the beginning of time.  He cared enough to send Christ to die for you.  God wants you to be part of His mission to save the world.  That’s pretty impressive.  You must be important!  So if you struggle with low self-esteem, let God transform the way you think.  You are precious to Him.
Do you struggle with shame or guilty?  God has promised He will forgive you if you ask.  No matter what you’ve done—how big or how small—God will forgive you.  1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  Shame and guilt can cripple us.  It makes us hesitant in our relationship with God and others.  Shame and guilt are constant burdens that weigh us down and slow us down in our spiritual life.  They sap the joy God wants us to have.  They can make life weary and full of worry.  So if you struggle with shame or guilt, let God transform the way you think.  The truth is, forgiveness is available through faith in Christ.  And if you believe, God does not think about your sins anymore.  They have been washed away.  God says in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.”  If you asked God to forgive you, He has.  Now it’s time for you to let go of your thoughts of shame and guilt.  Let God transform the way you think.
Some of you may struggle with doubt.  The unbelieving world says this world is all there is.  Since science cannot verify the existence of an afterlife, they reject the idea as a fantasy.  Since they cannot see God, they reason He is just a myth.  But faith helps us see that there is more to life than just what you can see and hear and taste and touch.  Faith helps us to know that Truth is more than just facts and figures.  Faith helps us to see there is always hope even when all seems to be lost.  Faith helps us to know that the future is ultimately in God’s hands and so, there is nothing to fear.  Faith helps us to hear God’s still small voice leading us down the right path.  Faith helps us to feel God’s presence when we need assurance that everything is going to be alright.  Even if we lose this life, God has another waiting for us in Eternity.  And all the wrongs of this world will ultimately be made right one day.  It’s OK to have questions.  It’s OK to have doubts.  Sometimes they lead us to deeper understanding and faith.  But if your doubts control you or keep you frozen with fear, maybe it’s time to let God transform the way you think.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  Take hold of the power, love, and self-discipline God wants you to have.  Let Him transform the way you think. 

Conclusion
            As I close, I join with the Apostle Paul and plead with you, give your bodies to God as a holy and living sacrifice.  Don’t hold anything back.  Surrender yourself completely to the Lord and He will transform your mind.