3 Ways Sacrificial Living Can Impact Your World

General Stanley McCrystal was the soldier entrusted with leading the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq. One of the things that McCrystal discovered early in his appointment was that a conventional approach to warfare would not work against an enemy that was waging war in an unconventional way.

To meet this unprecedented challenge, the general realised that he had to address the competitive culture that existed within the American military and intelligence establishment.

In order to achieve his objective of greater co-operation between the various agencies and sectors, he seconded some of his best officers to American embassies in the Middle East. He tells the story of how an experienced Navy SEAL was sent to one embassy. Despite his experience, it took months for him to earn the trust of the embassy staff. McCrystal recounts how for months all he did was empty the rubbish bins. Then, one day, the embassy found itself facing serious trouble. They turned to the SEAL for help. And because of his background, he was able to call people who had the expertise to fix the problem.

I can’t imagine what it is like to have a career move from covert operations in the special forces to putting out the bins, albeit at one of your country’s embassies. Suffice it to say, it must entail swallowing a whole lot of pride!

In Romans 12.1, Paul talks about offering ourselves as living sacrifices. If being a living sacrifice means anything, it means being prepared to let go of things. Those things aren’t necessarily just or even material things. The “things” might be more along the lines of certain entitlements or expectations.

Unfortunately, whenever we hear the language of sacrifice, we are inclined to think in terms of what we stand to lose. Let’s face it, Navy SEAL to janitorial duties at the embassy is not exactly a career trajectory most of us would want to celebrate!

What we forget is the incredible power of sacrifice.

So what does sacrifice achieve? You could write a book in answer to that question. Let me, however, give you three practical effects of sacrifice that can impact your world and mine.

Firstly, sacrifice has the power to break down barriers.

When we are prepared to let go of things which we have a right to expect, we begin to dismantle suspicion and sometimes even hostility, that others might feel towards us. If that Navy SEAL had demanded the kind of honour his military record deserved and refused the demeaning task that presented itself, his mission would have failed.

Ephesians 2.14 says that Jesus through His sacrifice, broke down the dividing wall of hostility that existed between Jew and Gentile. Sacrifice breaks down barriers.

Secondly, sacrifice builds bridges.

Before Jesus sacrificed His life on the cross, He sacrificed His life in heaven to become an earth dweller. The book of Hebrews reveals that He became for us a Great High Priest. It goes on to explain that because Jesus, in His humanity was tempted like us, He is able to empathise with us (Hebrews 4.15).

In the incarnation, God, in the person of Christ, built a bridge into a world of suffering humanity.

Every time that Navy SEAL carried out the rubbish, he was building a bridge into a world which didn’t understand him, perhaps didn’t want him, but one day would desperately need him.

Living sacrifices build powerful bridges into the world around them.

Finally, sacrifice eventually bears fruit that benefits everyone.

“Do you want to live a fruitful, fulfilled life?” is hardly the most searching question in the world. Of course people want to live fruitful, fulfilled lives! What doesn’t seem so obvious to most is that the letting go of sacrifice, or the sacrifice of letting go, is what opens the door to that life.

Months of doing work most would consider embarrassingly menial for such a capable soldier, eventually paid a huge dividend for everyone concerned.

Jesus described the fruitful life in terms of a seed falling to the ground and dying before it could bear fruit (John 12.24-24). We have to die before we live. We have to lose before we win. We have to sow before we reap. But eventually the sacrifice yields fruit that benefits everyone.

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Reconnecting with your inner priest

Over the last couple of decades there has been a lot of discussion as to what exactly the church is never mind what it does. Such discussions often draw on the images of the church that are found in the New Testament. Some think of the church primarily as the bride of Christ. Others focus on the family image expressed in the teaching about God’s fatherhood and our new status as adopted sons and daughters. For others still the metaphor – and reality – of spiritual conflict makes them think of the church primarily as an army.

One strand of New Testament teaching that is frequently overlooked in the discussion is the presentation of the church as a spiritual priesthood.

It is both surprising and unsurprising that this aspect of revelation has been neglected.

Unsurprising, because of the complicated history of priesthood within the church and the misgivings many have about the catholic understanding of priesthood. And it is unsurprising that this aspect of revelation has been underplayed in the Western church as the alternative to Christianity until fairly recent times has been secularism; in the developing world the religious alternatives are usually some sort of religious system in which a priest or priestess is central.

It is also surprising, because in both the Old and New Testament, God reveals His intention that His people are to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.6; Revelation 1.6). According to 1 Peter 2.5 the church is a holy priesthood and verse 9 of the same chapter describes the church as a royal priesthood.

So how does seeing ourselves as a priesthood affect the life and ministry of the church?

For a start, it directly connects us to the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus was and is our Great High Priest (Hebrews4.14). He is the priest who offered up Himself as a sacrifice for us. And according to Hebrews 7.25, He always lives to make intercession for us.

Jesus is Saviour, King, Redeemer, Prophet, Son of God. He is also Priest.

There are three things, amongst others, that a priest does, that have great significance for us.

Firstly, priests offer sacrifice.

What kind of sacrifice can we offer? According to Romans 12.1-2 we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. In other words the sacrifice that we make is to use our bodies to glorify God. That is our sacrifice. Just as Jesus offered up His body as a sacrifice, so we offer ours as a living sacrifice.

Secondly, priests pray.

Hebrews 5.7 says that Jesus offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears.

In any religion the priest or priestess is seen as a mediator. Someone who stands between people and God. Who represents God to people and people to God.

The church is God’s representative on earth. The church is to bring the needs of the world to God in prayer. And to bring the God’s love to the world through evangelism and acts of service.

Finally, priests offer worship to God.

Hebrews 13.15 says “Let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess His name.”

The church is not only a praying community. God intends it to be a worshipping community.

God has placed His church in the world to represent His ways and to care for the people of the world. The teaching of the church as a priesthood captures this truth in a way that none of the other images of the church do. Perhaps it’s time we reconnected with our inner priest.

3 Things I Learnt From ELIM100 Scotland

ELIMSECC

I am finding it rather hard to believe that I am writing this blog post on the Monday after the ELIM100 Scotland event. For the first time in eighteen months I will not be sending and responding to emails associated with this event, except to say “Thank you” and tie up any loose ends.

I have learnt a lot from the experience. “Thirty things I learnt from ELIM100 Scotland” might be a more appropriate – and accurate – title than the one I have chosen. However, on this occasion, I will limit myself to three. I also hope you will take it as read that without the grace of God, ELIM100 Scotland would never have happened!

One thing that came over very powerfully on Saturday was the sense of family.

Throughout its history, Elim has seen itself as a family. In its earliest days, probably up until the 70s, the sense of family and the feeling of belonging to a wider church family, was very strong within Elim. A combination of conventions and crusades, with national rallies, most notably in the Royal Albert Hall, both reinforced and promoted the sense of family belonging that was at the core of Elim’s identity.

Society inevitably changes over time. The church has to remain true to its call and yet adapt to change at one and the same time. What brought the family together a generation ago, or almost a century ago, did not always prove to have the same cohesive power in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. However, like any family, the difficulty of getting together “the way we always did” has not meant that we have ceased to be a family.

For me, Saturday not only confirmed my impression that the Elim family is still just that, a family, but revealed a new hunger for the family to be together. In the last forty-eight hours I have heard the term “Elim family” used on more occasions than I have heard for a long, long time. And not just from leaders, but from a broad spectrum of people throughout the churches.

Perhaps, like the person who decides to research the family tree, we have discovered a new desire to interact with the wider family circle. It feels as though there is a new hunger for fellowship within the family of Elim Churches that extends beyond our own local churches.

Secondly, I was reminded of the power of making an unusual effort.

I hesitate to use the term sacrifice. When one considers the huge sacrifices that Christians in places like Syria are making for their faith, it puts into perspective anything we might be tempted to call a sacrifice. Nevertheless, many people made huge efforts to make ELIM100 Scotland a success. Too many to mention. Both volunteers on the day and churches who travelled for many hours to be there. Huge efforts were made by many people in many different ways to make the event possible.

Two comments are necessary. Firstly, the kinds of unusual efforts put into making the event on Saturday possible might not be sustainable on an ongoing basis. However, secondly, if we are more open to making unusual efforts more often, we might be more surprised by what God will do.

The third thing I learnt is that every occasion is a gospel opportunity.

It would have been very easy for our General Superintendent, John Glass, to conclude that his audience was made up of Christians and therefore ditch any evangelistic appeal. In the event, he still made an appeal and people responded. What he did not know, what most of us did not know, was that one person was there who had met some Christians from Glasgow Elim just a week before. They had invited him to the “birthday bash” at the SECC. He came along. When John made the appeal, he stood up to indicate his desire to follow Jesus.

You just never know who is in the audience. You never know when God will use a church family gathering to add a new member to His family. Every occasion is a gospel opportunity.

Those of us who were at the SECC on Saturday will, no doubt, remember that day for many years to come. Only in the life to come will we fully realise all that was accomplished as we gathered together to celebrate one hundred years of God’s faithfulness to Elim.