Anyone other than me ever feel as though no one asks you to dinner, has you over to their home, wants you to tag along after church, include you in conversation? All of us like to be invited, included, thought of by others. But what if God’s intention is that we be the ones who are doing the asking, the inviting? What if it’s His idea that we who have been invited into His family, live out our lives giving instead of receiving. Sacrificing self, instead of building up self.
Sixteen times in the short New Testament book of 1 John, the statement “we know” is used by the Apostle to give his readers easy to spot signs in people who truly know God and have been changed by their experience with Him. He gives 4 indicators to look for: A lifestyle of saying no to sin. The presence of the Holy Spirit. A life of saying yes to God and the fourth – A Heart for others.
This is where Paul leads us next in the book of Ephesians Chapter 3.
There are three questions I want us to consider this week as we move toward this goal that God has for us to live sacrificially. First, Do I really believe that Jesus Christ is worth knowing?
Now, that may seem like a silly question to you, but is it? Do you believe that every non-Christian person you know would experience and live a much better life if God’s love, grace and redemption were at work within them? If you do, what are you willing to give up, sacrifice? Paul said “it is for this reason I am in chains, I am under house arrest. I can’t keep quiet about Jesus.”
In verse 4, Paul says that God’s plan has always been that all people, every nation, every ethnic group, religious and non-religious would know God’s love, compassion, grace and hope that has come through Jesus Christ. Paul has given his life to this cause of Jesus. It’s why he is under house arrest as he writes to us here.
And that’s the second question for us to consider. What am I willing to sacrifice in order to point people to faith in Jesus Christ? Do you believe that the highest and best use of your human life is to serve others in a way that points them toward God?
The single greatest gift you and I can give to someone is an introduction to the One who has gone the distance for us…who exchanged his life for ours. But that introduction most often comes at a price. It means that I sacrifice my comfort zone to enter the zone of the unknown…. One way we do that is we get up and walk across the room into situations that most wouldn’t dare to go. And we do so, not with a gavel in our hand ready to hand down the sentence for which we have already judged them, but we enter their world with no assumptions – we go seeking to understand. It means that we stop worrying about being invited and we do the inviting, the sharing, the sacrificing…. Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)(NIV) Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)(NIV)
But let’s be honest, there are some people we just can’t see laying down our life for, sacrificing our time, our resources…. But Jesus reminds us to look below the surface, to the heart of the person. He said in Mark 7:20: “What comes out of a man is what defiles (dirties) him. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20)(NIV)
Every struggle that we could possibly encounter in our lives and the lives of the people around us are represented by this list. And so it is not the behavior, but the heart of the person we need to understand and aim at with the transforming power of Jesus. And so I look below the surface to the heart.
One of the many things that God has done in my life over the last several years, is he has helped me to look below the surface to the heart. I’ve learned that before I start trying to “fix” someone, before I can offer a cure, I need to earn the right to speak into their life. There are several ways to do that, but the most effective, is to listen to the heart behind their words and actions. Build on common interests, not the things that divide us. And most importantly, love them, invite them in.
In my short life-time as a disciple and disciple maker, I’ve seen fad after fad, method after method, put out there that “if we follow this method” we are sure to win others to Christ. Just give everyone you meet a tract. If you have a good women’s ministry, a strong men’s ministry, if you put your preaching on the radio or TV, podcasts, or have campuses every ten miles. If you tailor your music toward a certain age group, they will be won over. And listen, there have been many lives brought to Christ though these methods. But it is not the method, It is the power of the Holy Spirit that changes the heart . It is God’s Spirit in us that has given us a heart of sacrifice toward others and it is God’s Spirit at work in their life that transforms them. And so the third question is more of a statement: It is in my willingness to sacrifice that the Spirit is unleashed to do His work in the lives of those around me.
And so in Verse 14, Paul says “I want you to know that for this very reason I get down on my knees before God and I pray that he will empower you by His Spirit that Christ may dwell in your hearts through your faith. You your every action will be rooted in love, and that you will grasp just how wide, long, high and deep is the love of Christ, and that through this you will be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God – that you will love like God does. And then he concludes his prayer in verse 20 with the assurance that Christ in us can do all of this and more. It is possible to live sacrificially in this way through Christ.
7 years ago, almost to the day, a grandmother walked into the office here at MCC asking if she could leave a small donation jar in the lobby for her grandson. The secretary kept the donation jar and said that the preacher would get back with her.
When I returned to the office, on the face of that donation jar where the most amazing eyes I’ve ever seen. They were big, they were blue and they were full of expression. The need, a couple hundred dollars for repairs to a 15 year old handy-cap accessible van.
I called the number on the jar and asked if I could visit in their home. It was there I met Justin Davis. Twenty two years old, stricken with Muscular Dystrophy at the age of 7, now unable to scratch his own nose, feed himself, dependant on a motorized chair, within the next year completely relying on a ventilator to breath for him.
That day we saw to it that the repairs were made to his van. But we also discovered that the only way Justin could come and go from his home was to be lifted by paramedics because there was no ramp. That week, one of our men who was working 12 hour days, 6 days a week, went over at night and built a first class ramp allowing Justin to go outside and take in the beautiful view and crisp air.
In the weeks that followed, Justin and his family used that ramp to begin attending worship. He loved the music – it was right down his alley. The louder the better. Countless nurses have come to worship with him, but most importantly, his Grandmother, mother, aunt, sister came and over the next 6 years each gave their life to the Lord and were baptized here. Today they are partners with us in reaching out to others, showing love, walking across the room to feed, cloth, speak words of grace and truth into the lives of those they encounter.
All because a church believed that Jesus is worth knowing. That it doesn’t matter if a person is confined to a wheel chair, requires suctioning in the middle of the service, they are worth sacrificing for in order that they will be pointed to Jesus.
Because some sacrificed financial resources, time, presence to be in a hospital room or house, God’s Spirit was unleashed in the life of a family who this past Sunday night stood around Justin’s bed and said to him “look, see Him Justin, It’s Jesus and He has come to take you home.”
Who do you know right now that needs a Savior? Who do you know that needs to meet the One who influenced you when He saved you? What are you willing to sacrifice? Better yet, what is it that you aren’t willing to give. Won’t you surrender it right now?
Maybe for some of you reading this blog, the zone of the unknown is the church. I am convinced that you will not find a more sacrificial group of people than those God is bringing to Himself here at MCC. Come, check it out, there is room for you, I promise.