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"Serving Without Sacrifice"

"Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will
come after me let him deny himself, take up his
cross, and follow me." (Matthew 16:24)

A minister friend, who himself had considered starting a boat ministry like ours, said to me, "I really have to hand it to your wife for going through all she does in your mission work.  I know now that I could never get my wife to do the same."   I appreciated the compliment he was paying to Debbie, but also found his words to be very disappointing.  I wanted to ask him, "You mean there are some things your wife would not do, even if God Himself asked her to?"

Now, it is possible that the idea of  "sailing for Jesus" was entirely his own.  In our travels we have met quite a few who took to the seas to "see the world", using missions as an "excuse" rather than having a clear, distinctive "call" from God.  But what if, instead, he had indeed felt the "leading" of the Lord?  Was he disobeying God to accommodate his wife?

What about the many other "reasons" some of us give for saying, "Here am I Lord, [but don't] send me" (see Isa 6:8)  .  The modern Christian is set against making sacrifices!  Instead, the teachings on living an "abundant life" prohibit having 'hardships' and promotes the amassing of 'possessions' instead.  In that point of view, since God wants to give us the "desires of our hearts", we should expect Him to answer every self-indulging prayer, and put around us a "hedge" in such a way as to keep us from every unpleasant thing [and God forbid that any of us should ever have to actually "suffer"!]

The fact is that we miss the real message in Psalms 37:4.  There it tells us that we are to first "delight ourselves in the Lord" [making God and fellowship with Him the thing we want  most] then He will give us Himself ['the desire of our hearts'] In other words, we are to want what God wants !!

In Isaiah 58 the Lord tells us He is 'fed up' with much of our 'religiosity', that instead of pious performances He would rather that our efforts were in "loosing the bands of wickedness, undoing the heavy burdens, letting the oppressed go free, breaking every yoke, giving bread to the hungry, bringing the poor into our houses, and covering the naked." (v.6,7)  When we are no longer "doing our own ways, finding our own pleasure, nor speaking our own words"  then we will "delight ourselves in the Lord" and God will "cause us to ride upon the high places of the earth..." (v.13,14)

Serving in the mission field is particularly demanding. Missionaries find that "forsaking all" is often a literal command, and "enduring to the end" has more personal meaning.  The scripture "All that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2Tim 3:12) is very well known to them because they have stepped out to do the exceptional for the Lord, and the devil has certainly taken notice.

It is encouraging to know, though, that when in the service of the Lord, we "...can do all things through Christ who strengthens [us]" - Phil 4:13 (Paul wrote these words while in prison!!)  But first he had to "...learn in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (v.11)  He then explains that the "whatsoever state" may include days of 'abounding' and days of 'abasement', periods of being full but also times of hunger (v.12)  Therefore, the "all things" that Paul said he could do with Christ's help were the necessary sacrifices while in Christ's service!  [Read the context - that's the message!!]

And what about those of whom Peter speaks of who "suffer according to the will of God" (1Peter 4:19)? These are those who are supposed to "rejoice, inasmuch as (they) are partakers of Christ's suffering" (v.13)  Are we to think, according to today's popular preaching, that they just didn't have 'enough faith' to keep them from their troubles? That we of this generation have a 'better annointing', a 'greater understanding', or a more 'fuller fulness' of the Holy Spirit?? How arrogant to imagine that we, somehow, 'know better' than those who walked with the master,  who heard his voice daily, who were the eye-witnesses of those things we can only believe by faith.  Has everyone forgotten that it is the "trial of [our] faith" which is "more precious than of gold" (I Pe 1:7)!!

Consider the Old Testament saints, who make up the "cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1), because of whom we are encouraged to "lay aside every weight" and "run with patience the race".  They have personal testimonies of tragedy that became triumph because, like Moses, they "chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" (11:25)  Read the full account of their ordeals, their sacrifices, (Hebrews 11:33-38) "...of whom the world was not worthy"!  This they did "...through faith"!!! (v.39)

But our most important "role model" for running this race is Jesus Himself ("Looking unto Jesus, the Author and finisher of our faith", Heb  12:2, who "endured the cross, despising the shame...").  We are told to "consider Him...lest [we] be wearied and faint in [our] minds." (v.3)  Weariness and fainting?  Sounds a bit more challenging than just braving a rainy morning's drive to Sunday school, or trying to sit comfortably past the stroke of noon while pastor attempts to 'wrap up' his sermon (and with the air conditioning not working - of all things!!)  Does God really expect more out of us?

I have come to believe that the Apostles and early Christians would feel a good bit out-of-place in most of our churches today.  In recent years Christianity has been lapsing into what is being called "Easy Believism", that the seriousness of sin and the consequences of the cross are no longer preached.  Rather, God is simply the solution to the diverse problems of life: usually financial, medical, social, or emotional

Whatever happened to denying self and taking up a cross?  We no longer forsake all - we want God to fix all !!  No wonder that, when the whole picture is viewed correctly, Christianity is loosing ground in this country.  It is only the rare individual who is willing to say, "Here am I, send me" (Isa 6:8)  Instead, we are being taught to say, "Here am I, send me something".

"I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory...Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone;
because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts...Then said I, Here am I; send me" 
(Isa 6:1-8)

Maybe what we all need is this same Isaiah-like glimpse of God's glory, one that will bring us to our knees, and cause us to confess our own faults and those of our contemporaries.  To become honest with ourselves, and in our relationship with the Almighty, is the only hope of ever finding our true 'calling' in Him.  It is a matter of perspective: what do you think of Him, and what do you think of you?

Contrary to all popular beliefs, God does not exist for you--you exist for Him!  The plainest statement of this most important truth is in Revelations 4:11 where it reads, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created."  We are here, in this world, at this time, to serve His purpose, whatever and wherever that may be.  Every  personal  issue is resolved when we "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness."  He is not King until it is He who sits on the throne!!

Over a decade ago my family and I were shipwrecked at sea while sailing to the mission field.  We lost our boat, all of our earthly possessions, and nearly our lives. With my wife and three young children beside me, clinging to the sinking wreckage in freezing waters, howling winds and crashing waves about us, God gave me the special opportunity to reaffirm a committment I had made to Him months before concerning my call as a missionary: that true discipleship requires a "surrendering of our rights" and a willingness to "serve the Lord anywhere, under any circumstances, for any length of time!  This is a pledge easy to make in the comfort of our sanctuaries but when God puts it to the test - we must pass it - the consequences of failure are unthinkable.

...David A. Goodrum        (copywrite  2004)

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