Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Living Sacrifice

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
Romans 12:1

Jesus gave us the ultimate example of sacrifice. The Bible says that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In other words, when we were still against God, before we had ever made a decision to follow Him, He gave His life for us. This is an amazing example of friendship and love. Paul also points out that we, as humans, might choose to die for a righteous person but never for a wicked person (Romans 5:7). Think about it, who would you put your life on the line for? Who would you be willing to die for? Your kids? Spouse? Your brothers, sisters, parents, or friends? For these people we might be willing to die, but what about the person who bullied you in high school? Or the boss who just fired you? Let's take it a step further and consider whether you would put your life on the line for the serial killer on death row. Would you be willing to take his place? What about Osama Bin Laden when he was still alive? If you had a chance, would you have taken his place while helping him to safety from the blast that killed him? Most of us would not have. However, Christ died for each one of these people and He also died for us while we were still His enemy! This is why Paul states that it is only reasonable for us to present our own lives as a sacrifice to Him in return. This is not even above and beyond, it's the least we can do in response to what He did for us. He gave His whole life for us and all we can offer in return is our own life.

So what does it mean to present our bodies as living sacrifices? 

A lot of times we discuss this verse when we reference putting down our carnal nature. We think that Paul is referring to cutting off our sinful desires (i.e., lust, greed, dishonesty, gossip, etc.) when he talks about presenting our bodies as a sacrifice, but that is not what Paul is referring to. Our sinful desires and our carnal natures were crucified with Christ when He went to the cross. Christ’s blood has already washed us and freed us from these things. Obviously, we should be stopping our sinful actions and striving towards holiness, as we already discussed in the previous section. Paul also shows us in Galatians 4:9 how foolish it is to continue sinning after being set free,

“But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?”

Why would you want to stay bound to those sinful desires after Christ paid the price for you to be set free? When it comes down to it, giving up sin is not even a true sacrifice. Why would we call it a sacrifice to give up our bondage and accept the freedom that has been offered us? But even if you did consider it a sacrifice to give up our sinful desires, this could never be the sacrifice that Paul is referring to here. Paul is referring to a sacrifice that is "holy, acceptable to God", but sin can never be considered holy.

So if Paul is not talking about us sacrificing our carnal nature then what is he referring to? Again, Paul states that the sacrifice should be “holy, acceptable to God” and a quick look in Leviticus makes it clear what the parameters were for an ‘acceptable’ sacrifice. There were many types of sacrifices in Old Testament times but one thing that was always common to the sacrifices is that they were to be without blemish, perfect in every way (Lev. 1:3; 22:19). Understanding that, we can understand why our sinful nature would never be a sacrifice that would be acceptable to God. In fact, in Leviticus, God commands that the unacceptable parts of the sacrifice should be separated and burned outside of the camp; the rest was presented to God.Applying that same principle in our own lives, we should be putting off the sinful nature and allowing it to be consumed by God’s holy fire. Then we should present the rest of us as a sacrifice to Him. We should be presenting everything that is good about us to Him. Every talent, skill, personality trait, anything that people may compliment us on, should be what we present to Him as our holy sacrifice. We should be putting these things on the Lord’s altar and saying “use them as You will.

Often we think that we need to lay our problems and our weaknesses at His feet, but really what we should be presenting to His throne is our strengths. God has asked for our best parts, our areas of strength and our talents. He’s the one who gave us those things so it is only fitting that they should be used for His glory and He will lead us into how to use those things most effectively. Since He is our creator He knows the best way to utilize our strengths and talents. Not only that, he takes it a step further by strengthening us where we are weak (2 Corinthians 12:9-11). He has the best plan for our lives. 

Therefore, present your whole self, made righteous through Christ’s sacrifice, to God. This is a sacrifice that God will see as holy and acceptable, and this is your reasonable service in response to the sacrifice He made for you.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Pride vs Confidence

"Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."
James 4:10

Sometimes it seems there is a fine line between confidence and pridefulness. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out where exactly that line is. 

At what point does your confidence become arrogance? 
At what point should you advocate for your self and at what point should you shut up and listen?

God has been working with me on these questions for the past few years, especially in the context of my career. In 2013 I was fired from my position as the administrator of a Residential Treatment Home and, though there were many contributing factors, the main underlying reason is that I did not advocate for myself or my program and allowed my supervisors to put me in a no win situation. This was a time where I was supposed to speak up and instead I shut up. 

Soon after God opened up the door in a new, better company that was in the same industry with only one catch, I started from the "bottom". I was hired as a regular staff and began the process of reproving myself in this new company. God, as always, has been faithful and over the past couple years I have had the opportunity to become the Assistant Administrator and have also had a chance to take their leadership academy as well as learn and grow under my current administrator. 

That brings me to my current situation. I learned, from my experience of being fired, to speak up for myself and I have been doing my best to find opportunities to do so in my new company. Even so, an opening for an administrator position came up recently and I wasn't even considered. I found myself getting frustrated and even upset because I am confident I would be a great administrator and I couldn't see why no one was seeing that truth. I felt overlooked and undervalued. 

The morning before I found out that I wasn't being considered for the Administrator position, James 4:10 showed up as the daily verse on YouVersion. "Humble yourselves..." I read it in the morning before I knew that I wasn't being considered and didn't think too much of it. But after getting the notification God brought me back to it. I processed it and I realized that I had allowed my confidence turn into arrogance. 

I found myself getting upset when my boss would point out my mistakes because I felt that he should be recognizing all the great things I do. 

I was upset at them not considering me for the administrator position even though I could see why it may not have been the best fit for me to move on.

But why was I upset? If my boss was pointing out true mistakes, then I should thank him for helping me improve. If the position wasn't the right fit then I should be happy that the people hiring could see that and kept me out of a less than perfect situation. So why be upset? 

My pride was hurt. Not only that but God was showing me how, through my pride, I was trying to make things happen on my own. I wasn't trusting him any longer to put me in the right position at the right time. "Humble yourselves...

Not only did this verse tell me what I need to do but it gave me a promise. If I humble myself than God will lift me up. 

Confidence is good, but confidence doesn't mean that I attempt to lift myself up

At the right time God will lift me up. And when He does I can be confident that I will look back and be thankful that He didn't allow me to lift myself up. 

I was finally starting to get it but God apparently wanted to make sure because the following verses showed up on YouVersion over the next week:

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." - Proverbs 1:7

"Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble." - Proverbs 11:2

"Before destruction the heart of a man is haughty, and before honor is humility." - Proverbs 18:12

"For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation." - Psalms 149:4

I know this was very focused on my own situation but I hope that it helps some of you as well. God has promised that if we humble ourselves and put our trust in Him, He will lift us up. If you are waiting to be lifted up this may just be the word that you needed to hear!