In the previous months we have heard story after story, in this sanctuary, about the increase in horrible persecution and suffering by Christians in countries all over the world; and as bad as things are getting here, we know we are still very blessed because we don't suffer that way. Yet, many of these suffering people, know Christ with an intimacy and realism, that most of us cannot fathom. Most of the persecution, most of the suffering occurs, when the victims choose to live for Christ in the face of the threats, and sometimes in the certainty of suffering. In that light, are they not choosing to suffer when they don't really have to suffer? So, you may say, "I am not faced with such a choice, and I can't help that." To which, I would say to you, "Are you sure about that?"
People that choose to be missionaries in third world countries, or in openly hostile countries; people that have chosen to live a lifestyle in a considerably lower level of comfort, convenience, and safety for love and service to Christ; people that leave friends, family, careers, medical security, entertainment, and the simple everyday pleasures of life; to serve in dirty, lowly, unwelcome, dangerous environments are, "suffering for the sake of Christ by choice? " 2 Corinthians 11:23-29: Paul's life with no family of his own, his stressful schedule, his dangerous journeys, his poor eating and drinking conditions, his choice to endure horrible punishments, and his loss of normal, safe, secure, lucrative living are things he chose to suffer in serving Christ. He even takes the suffering of other people as his own, involving himself in their pain and struggle. Romans 8:18; Matthew 13:45-46: Paul saw something so valuable in knowing Christ, that it trumps all else he could live for, or enjoy in his life.
There is a book written by a well known author entitled, "Your Best Life Now." Never have I heard a more demonic, self-focused, sugar-coated mentality in my life. Many of us have convinced ourselves that the relational, financial, and health benefits are part of what makes it so worth following Jesus; some may even have accepted Him in the first place with the hopes and understanding that He would make everything right in one of these areas. What completely selfish, unloving person wouldn't accept Christ, if it was all about the benefits for us, and not about His worthiness? "Your Best Life Now" has nothing to do with the Sacrificial Love that our Jesus showed and taught when on this earth. If you found out right now, that proof-positive, Christianity has been finally proven false, would you look back on your life and feel like you have wasted so much, and missed so many things in life? Most of you would not because your walk with Christ has not cost you much of anything in life; as we said, if anything many of you have expected a better, easier life. You live, work, play, and sacrifice about as much as the rest of the world around you does; your biggest "sacrifice" is going to church, and you don't even struggle to do that regularly. 2 Corinthians 15:19. Paul chose to leave a high position in his culture, with much prestige, money, and power, to be a homeless, family-less, poor, convict on the run; to be a prisoner, and eventually a martyr. Paul, and everyone who chose Christ, chose hard times and struggles for the rest of their days; that is why Paul said they were, "of all peoples most to be pitied." He goes on to say they should be living much differently if Christ were not real. 1 Corinthians 15:32: Paul is not just speaking about being a glutton and a drunkard; he's saying if Christ is real, let your life be sacrificially for Him. If He is not, then just spend all your time in the pleasures of the world; focus elsewhere. Matthew 16:24-26; Matthew 10: 37-39; Luke 9:62: These are all commands and expectations for all believers—to give up their pursuits of this world, in total sacrificial, living for God and His Kingdom. That was not a request—Jesus and Paul were clearly saying that if we don't see something in Christ, In His love, In His Sacrifice, that compels us to live all out sacrificially in gratitude and response—we don't really love Him. Philippians 3:7-11: What do you suffer the loss of because of your faith? What do you sacrificially do to serve Him? Would your life be a complete waste if He was found to be false? Would you have even lived that differently if you'd never known Him? What an awful and embarrassing thing to admit for some of us—most have chosen an unsacrificial life; serving where and when it doesn't get in the way; quitting when its hard; putting everything about this life, our family, and our security before a radical service to Jesus Christ. Serving Christ is supposed to cost every one of us immensely—not just fit into your lifestyle. [DID YOU GET THAT?] You shouldn't be waiting until social persecution forces you to give up life as usual and live daringly for Christ. If you haven't already chosen to do so, you are lukewarm and loving it.
Romans 8:16-18, 1 Peter 4:13, Philippians 1:29, 2 Timothy 1:8, 1 Peter 4:1-3: Why does our “loving” God want us to sacrifice and suffer for Him? Colossians 1:24, Romans 5:8, John 15:13, Philippians 2:5-8, 2 Corinthians 8:9: we know God loves us because He sacrificially loved and served us, to the point of death. When Christ was here physically, He showed His love through sacrificial living, through suffering on our behalf. Now, He is physically gone, and we are here as His representatives—to love as He did. We are Jesus to the world today. Our suffering and sacrifice for others serves part of the same immeasurable purpose today—to show others their worth; to show others how much they are loved. A love that costs nothing, means nothing; but, a love that takes up my life—that is at the cost of persecution or suffering, especially if that suffering was caused by them—is all too real to the lost.
We went from 12 Christians to over a billion today, because millions lived sacrificially and suffered. You and I have to do the same for even one more. Don't want to miss service? Always too busy with job and kids? Just want a break when here? Sacrifice! That is one major reason our, "Loving God" wants us to sacrifice in life—because He wants us to be just as loving to the world as He is. He wants us to sacrificially live, to show how much we love Him. In doing so, we bond with Him in a special way, just like soldiers or prisoners in their shared experiences; and we show that His worth to us, is above everything we are losing or giving up, in our day to day world to serve Him. [What is He worth more than in your life?] Our struggles with depression, anxiety, and sin will greatly diminish, and often disappear as all of our life's focus, sacrificially leaves self, and our joy becomes dependent on pleasing Him and serving others. 1 Peter 4:1-2.
What does all this mean to you and me? Well, based upon what you just heard, do you live a life that would seem like a total waste to the world, if Jesus were found to be false? Or, do you pretty much live like everyone else? What would a sacrificial life, a suffering life even look like in this culture? It’s supposed to be about leaving the treasures of the world to live one hundred percent for God, right? Let's start with your money [Yes, it’s out there] Do you sacrifice? Make your family sacrifice in any way? In order that you might pay tithes to the church to further the Word of God? To help others? Do you freely, sacrificially, give of your own money and resources to show love and meet needs of anyone who's life touches yours? If you don't have anything left for God, and yet you and your whole family dresses well, eats well, has everything the world has, and does what you want when you want, you can be assured, you are not living sacrificially with your money. To love God with your money, is to live at whatever level you need to live, in order to be sure He is first, and He is honored, in how you spend. You love your kids and would never dream of not taking care of them financially, right? And your spouse, right? Why is God different? [Jesus said, "If you don't love Me more than them..." Matthew 10:37]
How about serving Him with your life? (Mike Pettengill) Do you serve Him, through serving in His church and serving others? Do you give so much of yourself to serving Him that it takes away from a normal life lived for the world? If you know God is real, and He is your reason for life, and that many around you are never going to know His love if you don't do something—it becomes more than a position at church, more than a teaching job, a cleaning job, a nursery job or a music ministry, more than something you do, if you don't cancel for the hundredth reason this month, more than something you can start and stop, begin and quit, on a whim, as long as it still fits your life—it becomes a passionate way that you reach people for eternity; a passionate way you serve your God and King. To use your life to serve sacrificially and even in suffering does mean that sometimes you stay with someone that is not ideal, or that might not, "deserve you", because you want them to see Christ. It does mean that you will leave a lifestyle of sex outside of marriage even though it is difficult and uncommon. It does mean you will trust God in honoring your role as a husband and a wife, as God ordained them—loving and respecting. It might mean that you answer His call to a ministry or missionary work that will completely overtake your entire life. Every person here who claims Christ, needs to serve in such a way that it could be called sacrificial and even suffering at times. You need to be living in such a way that it would look crazy and wasteful if you ever found out Christ wasn't real. You need to be living in such a way, that an unbelieving world will feel their worth because of all you do for them. Philippians 3:7-10.
According to how you are living, do you prove that you consider this life a loss, for the sake of serving Him? If we can't choose to live sacrificially here, to suffer loss (according to how the world would live), we would never choose to live sacrificially, and suffer loss in the world in which Jesus and Paul wrote these Words to us. We will never show Christ's real love to the world; we will never show real love to Christ. Are you living sacrificially? It is not a request—pour your life into serving Him and His people, and know that your life finally counts for something so much bigger than this world can imagine. Many people in this room would say you are living for Christ today; my question to you is, "At what cost?"
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