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About this series
Good to Great in God's Eyes
Ten Practices Great Christians have in Common
Are you tired of the status quo Christian life? Do you long for a spiritual breakthrough? Are you looking to go to the next level or get a fresh infusion of faith and spiritual passion? Great Christians live out their faith with purpose. In Mark 10:43, Jesus says, whoever wants to become great among you must - what? You'll explore the idea that there are certain practices available to every believer, at every maturity level, to move us from good to great, in God's Eyes. ACSI approvedMore from this series
Well, we’re learning some things about great Christians. And we said that great Christians have some things in common. If you go all the way back, you’ll learn that great Christians, people that are great in God’s eyes, they think great thoughts. They read great books. They pray great prayers. They dream great dreams. In our last session, we learned that they take great risks.
And then – this is a little delicate because the title of this one sometimes scares people. Great Christians make great sacrifices. But don’t let that word, sort of – ooh, boy. Your human nature just says the words sacrifice and yuck go together. But I want to help change that, by the grace of God.
Let’s look at what sacrifice is. Definition: “It’s the act of giving up, destroying, or permitting injury to, or foregoing something valued for the sake of something having more pressing claim.” That’s Webster’s. I like that. It’s giving up. It’s being willing to be injured. It’s doing whatever it takes, but it’s for the sake of something that is more important, that has a higher claim.
And here’s the question I have for you and me, as we think about making great sacrifices: Why? Why? Even when unbelievers make great sacrifices – why? What is this mystical union and soul connection we unconsciously make when we witness a great sacrifice for a noble cause or a personal relationship?
And I think the answer is that sacrifice is the clearest and greatest evidence of the extent of one’s love and devotion toward a person, a cause, or a thing. I think the reason it resonates in your soul – are you ready for this? This is almost embarrassing. I’m watching the Animal Planet channel the other night, and this mother didn’t have any food for her little lion cubs. And she’s a small lioness. And she finally kills something. And then, her cubs are over here, and she drags the prey. And she can’t do it. So, she goes and gets her little cubs. And on the way, about eight or ten hyenas surround her. And I’m getting scared watching TV. And then, here’s this one lioness, and she doesn’t have – she’s got one opportunity – run, and she’s willing. And you just see, built into the animal kingdom – she takes on six or seven or eight or ten hyenas, in order to save those cubs.
And there was something about that picture. There was something about that picture that, as I watched it, I thought, God, what have You built into the life of all creation that makes my heart so resonate? See, she will give her life for those cubs because she is devoted to them. Because, take this right, she loves them; she’s for them. And then I got thinking. I thought, You know what? This is really clear. What did Jesus say? John 15, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friend.”
What I want you to you see is that sacrifice, the measure of our sacrifice, represents what matters the most. What we are willing to sacrifice for is what we’re most devoted to, what we love the most, what we care about the most. And so, if you ever want to know what you really worship, all you have to do is take you, and draw an arrow, and then what’s in the box toward the arrow. What do you give your time to? What do you give your energy to? Where are your dreams? Where are you willing to sacrifice? What are you willing to do?
Good Christians do what’s required, and make the sacrifice required, to demonstrate that Jesus is, in fact, the object of their worship. Great Christians, what we’re going to find is, they go above and beyond everything that’s required to express an overflowing love and commitment to their relationship with Christ. So, are you ready to roll? If you have a pen, you might want to pull it out, because I am going to guess that you’re going to want to make a couple notes, and I’m going to go pretty fast.
Understanding biblical sacrifice and worship. Lessons from Leviticus – it’s the first ten chapters. I’ll cover ten chapters here, in about two minutes. And you’ll say, “That’s the best journey I’ve had through Leviticus.” In Leviticus, there are five offerings prescribed for worship in the Old Testament.
Two are compulsory offerings. In other words, they’re required. You have to do them. One is called the “sin offering,” for atonement, and you’d bring a bull or you’d bring a goat, and it’s to cover your sin. The other is a guilt offering. If you would lie, or if you would steal, or if you would do something wrong, then you would bring an animal for your guilt, and come to the priest.
And so, these were required. You had to bring, at certain times, an atonement offering and a guilt offering. But there were three non-compulsory, or voluntary, offerings. The burnt offering was one to express your devotion. It was voluntary.
The grain offering was for God’s provision. The fruits and the crops came in, and you would bring in the first portion of it. And you would wave the grain before the Lord in thanksgiving.
And then, the peace offering had to do with, anytime you had – are you ready of this? – you’re an Old Testament saint. And you had just the overwhelming feeling of how good God is to you. You just say, “You know what honey, what do think? Why don’t we go to the Temple today? Why don’t we give a peace offering?”
And the way it worked is, you would bring this peace offering, and you would offer it to the Lord. The priest would get to keep part of it. Oftentimes, you would have to eat it right there. And it would be like a little party, a festival. And you would eat it there, before the Lord, giving thanks for what He’s done.
And the only observation I want you to get is this: Access to God demands a sacrifice. Okay? In other words, to come into God’s presence, you need to be atoned for, or covered. That’s a sacrifice. And then, fellowship with God grows through sacrifice. Voluntary offerings were from the heart. Compulsory offerings were required.
Second: a lesson from the life of Abraham. I wish we could open Genesis 22 and read through it, but we don’t have time. But many of you know the story. Abraham has been waiting for a son for a long time. God finally gives him a son, when Sarah is ninety. The boy now reaches about, probably, twelve, maybe thirteen years old. And God is going to test Abraham. And he says, “Abraham, I want you to take your son, your only son, whom you love, and this is what I want you to do, and go to this mountain that I’ll show you.”
And Abraham does what great Christians do. You always obey early, because later in the day, you don’t have the courage or the motivation. And the text says he got up very, very early, set off with is son, his servant. And the boy, along the way, says, “Papa, where’s the offering?” He says, “The Lord will provide.”
And you know the story. He goes up. He ties his son. He builds an altar. The knife is up. And this isn’t like a little rubber knife. And this isn’t like, well, he knows for sure. What we know is, Abraham believed, from Hebrews 11, that after the knife would be plunged into his son, the Lord would resurrect him. And the reason he believed that was, This is what God told me to do. But God promised it’s going to come through this boy. You talk about a test!
And so, what you have here is, you’ve got the requirement is to give his son. The response is obedience. And then, as the knife, he fully, willfully made the decision. And just as the knife was starting to come down, an angel of the Lord, “Stop, Abraham. Stop. Now I know. Now I know you fear God. Now I understand where your priorities are.”
Now, are you starting to get this? Sacrifice. What did He ask him to sacrifice? The most precious thing that he had. Why? To find out – actually, God knew – but He wanted to test Abraham, so Abraham could learn, and be confirmed of what matters most: “What do you worship the most? Me, or this boy?” And for us, it’s, “Me, or this wife, or this husband? Me, or these children? Me, or this job? Me, or success? Me, or money? Me, or fame?” Do you get it?
In way of summary, we learn from Abraham, God periodically tests the singularity of our devotion, through sacrifice. And before you start feeling like, Wow, this is really heavy, let me tell you why. It is out of His goodness, and His mercy, and His grace that He does that. And you’re thinking, Now, wait a minute. Are you trying to spin this, Chip? This does not sound like a merciful, good, kind thing for Him to say to this guy, “Give Me your son, your only son.” Good things, and good people, left unchecked, over time, will drift from a great gift from God, to becoming an idol in your heart.
When something that is good becomes an idol in your heart, it will destroy your relationship with that thing, and it will destroy your relationship with God. And so, out of His great mercy and kindness, there are times when He’ll tap you on the shoulder, and He’ll say, I want you to give Me this job, this only job that you love. I want you to set apart how you’re thinking about this child, or your mate. I want you to take this money, this security that you think is…
And He’ll, out of His mercy and His grace, test you, so that it does not become an idol in your heart, and begin to break down the relationship that you have with Him, and not allow the thing that was meant for good, as a gift, to become a god. Because then, it’ll destroy you, and destroy it.
I think we often resist this because we don’t understand the difference between sacrifice and worship.
I hit that time, as men do, in your mid-forties, and you spend your whole life trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do with your life.
And then, you finally lock into, this is what I’m supposed to do, and then it takes you about ten years to figure out how to do it. And then, in about another ten years, that if, by God’s grace, He gives you a window and a great team of people.
Well, here’s this amazing church, and all these buildings got built. And it seemed like an accident that this radio ministry just popped up out of nowhere. And I did this ten-year run with six or eight pastors and we became great friends and buddies, and we hung out together.
And, pretty soon, we look up, and we’ve got a staff of seventy or eighty people, and thirty pastors, and thousands of people. And, man, this is great! And you live on the coast, and your kids like to surf. And someone has a little cabin up in the mountains, so when you want to get away and pray, and, Life is wonderful, God! No, no, no, no. You don’t understand. My wife really likes it here.
And I think there are times where God will do what feels harsh and painful, to protect you from you, because He loves you.
And it changed the relationship. I’ll tell you what, the first year, I’d like to say everything went wonderful. My wife had two oral surgeries; neither of them worked. Her mother died, was in intensive care for over ninety days, during that journey. The first year and a half in Atlanta was as bad as I can remember any season in our married life. Not that we had a problem, but when you come home, and someone’s either in pain, hurt, depressed, unhappy, or, in the middle of the night, waking up – well, some of you guys have been there.
You wake up in the middle of the night, and you hear someone sobbing, and they have their pillow over their head so they don’t wake you up. This is not fun. And yet, it was required to wean my wife’s heart, to wean my heart, and for us to make sure that the good things that He gives don’t turn into bad things and idols.
The third thing we learn is lessons from the life of teaching. Please open your Bibles to Luke, chapter 14. When Jesus speaks on this one, you need to get this very directly, not just hearing me describe it. We know from Leviticus there is compulsory and non-compulsory sacrifices.
We know from Abraham that there are times when He will test you, and the way He will test you is, He will ask you to make a sacrifice about the thing that’s most precious to you. And now, what I want you to see from this passage: Jesus is going to speak on the relationship between worship and sacrifice. And what I want you to see is, what He’s going to talk about is normal.
We tend to think – what you’re about to read – you think, unconsciously, that this is for, like, pastors, missionaries, Billy Grahams, Mother Teresas. We think they are some elite group of superstars, and this kind of sacrifice is probably for them. What God wanted you to know is that this is for every believer, of every age. These are required courses. This is 101, 201. This is freshman, sophomore stuff.
Luke, chapter 14, beginning at verse 25: “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them.” Notice, this isn’t private. This isn’t with the disciples. This isn’t for the elite. This isn’t for full-time workers. Large crowds.
Here is the call: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and his children, his brothers and his sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be My disciple.” If you have a pen, underline “he cannot be My disciple.”
There are some things in Scripture that are hard to understand. This isn’t one of them. It may be hard to do but, “he cannot be My disciple.” And He’s talking about priority. Obviously, there’s a picture here, that we don’t actually hate, but in comparison to our love for Him, every other relationship is so secondary, it is as though we hate them. And then, He says, “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.”
In other words, if you didn’t get it the first time, carry your own cross. Now, in our day, we think crosses and chains around people’s necks. He could have said, “And anyone who isn’t willing to go to the electric chair” or “to have lethal injection.” It was just a common way to die. What He’s saying is, “If you can’t die to your agenda, if you can’t put to death your agenda in order to take on My agenda, you can’t be My disciple.”
And a disciple is, what? A follower, a learner. It means, the teacher cuts the path, and the disciple, or the learner, or the follower, he follows the path. Now, you know what? I bet there was a large crowd. I think the crowd dwindled after this one. So, that’s the call. And it’s for every believer.
What’s He really saying here? “To worship Me demands absolute sacrifice. I must have supreme position above every relationship and every issue in your life.” And you think, Well, boy, that sounds pretty narrow. Who do You think You are, God? Do you get it?
And then, notice, He says, But I’m not looking for emotional, knee-jerk response. I’m not looking for people that are going to wail and cry, and say, “Oh, yeah. You’re the greatest teacher in the world. You fed five thousand yesterday. I want to be a Jesus groupie.” He kind of stops them.
And He says, “You better count the cost.” So, He says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not sit down first and estimate the cost and see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and wasn’t able.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war with another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he’s not able, he’ll go and take a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will make terms of peace. In the same way –”
What’s the point? In the same way as you would say, Following Him, wow, I’ve got to count the cost. I’ve got to evaluate, He comes before stuff. He comes before my dreams. He comes before every other relationship. These are the demands of following Him. He says, don’t do it tritely. He says, weigh it out.
And then, notice, at the very end, “In the same way, any one of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness,” its distinctiveness, “how can it be made salty again? It’s neither good for soil” – they used to use small amounts of salt for fertilizer – “nor for the manure pile; it’s thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” From Jesus, we learn, He demands absolute supremacy in our hearts as a condition for being His follower.
And what I realized, over time, a very good thing, and a wife that I really loved, little by little, was creeping into the idol. I want to please her. I don’t want conflict. I don’t want tension. And usually, it wasn’t in conflict. But God tested the most important relationship.
And I look back now, I just can’t imagine our marriage being better. I can’t imagine how it’s opened doors. I can’t imagine the freedom that it has created, and the next level of maturity, both in my relationship with God, and my wife.
And then, what you see is – because some of you are getting a little nervous. It’s okay. You’re thinking, Everything – that’s a big word, like, everything. You mean my job? “Yeah.” You mean my…? “Yeah.” You mean…? “Yes.” And what you’re going to learn is, if you really understand who Jesus is, and if you ever grasp the depth of His compassion, and His goodness, and His kindness, the only reason He ever asks you to leave everything is because anything else is so second rate.