Giving up the good to be closer to what’s better

psalm 73.23-25

If you desire to be a follower of Christ, then go ahead and expect it: you will be put to the test of sacrifice.  You will be forced to choose between your will and God’s will, between your idea of what’s right and what God says is necessary.  In those moments, hear Him ask, “Do you trust me to provide for your needs?  Do you really believe that I want is what is best for you?  Am I really your heart’s only desire?”

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?  Or what shall a man give in return for his life?'”

Matthew 16:24-26

Today we have a skewed vision of what it means to be “blessed” or “fortunate,” so when times of sacrifice come, we don’t always see them as steps in the purification of our desires and discipline of our faith.  Because of God’s word though, I just have to believe that true faith is shown through trusting God no matter what the cost. We must trust Him so much that we are willing to give up even the most precious or promised thing that we believe He’s given to us even for the sake of furthering His kingdom.  For Abraham, it was his son.  For Job, it was all of his possessions and family.  For Jonah, it was going to Ninevah, even after trying to escape that call of God.

In my lifetime I’ve never been faced with imprisonment for the sake of Christ like Paul.  I’ve never been thrown into a lion’s den like Daniel.  I’ve never walked willingly into a fiery furnace like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, saying, “God is able to deliver us from the flames, but even if he doesn’t and we die today, to Him be the glory!” (Daniel 3:16-18).

If God is calling you to make a sacrifice, don’t try to escape Him.  True love of God is shown through obedience to Him and to His Word.  If we truly trust in His goodness, then remember that it’s for our benefit to lay down our lives and all of our earthly desires in order to follow Him.

And in making such a sacrifice of what we call “good”, we will actually preserve what is better: our relationship with God, the creator of every good and perfect thing (James 1:17).

Praying your days is filled with SONshine,

Sarah. signature

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Prayers for Oklahoma

http://www.google.com/search?q=oklahoma+tornado&client=safari&rls=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=6LacUffRA8Pq0wHmyoCADw&ved=0CAoQ_AUoAQ&biw=1129&bih=589#imgrc=uTD8zFdotKqnPM%3A%3BLkclGo383rpZGM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fi2.cdn.turner.com%252Fcnn%252Fdam%252Fassets%252F130521223800-19-oklahoma-tornado-0521-horizontal-gallery.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.cnn.com%252F2013%252F05%252F21%252Fus%252Fsevere-weather%252F%3B640%3B360

http://www.foxnews.com/weather/slideshow/2013/05/22/photos-trail-carnage-left-in-wake-twisters/?intcmp=related#slide=1

Wow, what heartache and tragedy…

In times of tragedy and hardship, it seems “only human” to question why God would allow for disaster to happen.  But this is where we fall into danger… After all, when we doubt God’s goodness, we doubt His whole nature…

There will always be things in this world that we won’t be able to understand.  We will never be able to fully understand natural disasters like the tornados that destroyed parts of Oklahoma earlier this week or tragic incidents like the Sandy Hook shooting.  BUT, do you want to know something that we can always be sure of, even if we don’t understand completely?

          God is the Creator.  (Genesis 1:1)

          God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  (Hebrews 13:8)

          God is who He says that He is. (Numbers 23:19)

          God is our hope. (Hebrews 6:18-20)

          God is the strength of our hearts (Psalm 73:26).

          God is love. (1 John 4:8)

          God is our refuge. (Psalm 91)

…and He is so much more…

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When Paul and Silas were traveling from town to town, they strengthened and encouraged their brothers and sisters in Christ, saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21-22).

Isn’t that so true?  We live in a fallen world full of sin, and there are consequences that result due to the presence of sin. Diseases, disasters and death are just some of those consequences.  There is no distinction or partiality between believers and non-believers (Matt. 5:45); sin seeks to destroy all of us and separate us from our Heavenly Father (Isaiah 59:2).  But it’s faith in Christ that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4), and so the destruction of darkness no longer reigns over those that have called upon Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (Romans 6:5-11)…

So to those that have been directly affected by the tornados, please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers. James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”  May His presence bring you comfort, and may He reveal even more of Himself and His goodness to you as you seek Him through this time of tribulation.

To those of us that have not been directly affected, let’s ask ourselves what are the ways that we can strengthen and encourage our brothers and sisters in Oklahoma.  Prayers, donations, volunteering, etc.?  What are the spiritual gifts that God has equipped you with in order to encourage other members of the body of Christ?

Praying your day is filled with SONshine,

Sarah

The offering of empty hands

from : http://morganbeebe.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/empty-my-hands/

If obedience requires sacrifice, how is it that our sacrifices don’t necessarily prove our obedience?

Not much time is needed to answer this question based on my own life experiences.  During Lent one year, I decided to give up chocolate.  I figured that I could go ahead and knock out two birds with one stone!  I could partake in the suffering of Christ and lose some of my sweet tooth at the same time; it would maybe even get three birds if I lost weight while I was at it, too.  But let’s look at my attitude and motivation.  Was giving up chocolate for 40 days a way to pursue God or my body image?…  Who was glorified through that sacrifice: me or God?

amos 5.21-24

The Message

For those of us who have been relying on the rituals of religion, this is a very frightening realization!  After all, it just proves that God is not fooled by our empty actions or our empty offerings.

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?  All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord.

But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.

– Isaiah 66:1-2 –

As the last post discussed, obedience does require sacrifice because we must give up things that keep us from obeying God.  In this way, all of those sacrifices are made with the intention of drawing us closer to God and into the center of His presence and love.  In this pursuit of God fueled by love from and for Him, there is no room for selfish ambition….

 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55:1).

“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him” (Isaiah 55:7)

Are you ready to return to the Lord with the greatest sacrifice?  Are you willing to admit that all you have to bring are empty hands?  Then come, come to the Lord…

Obedience & Sacrifice: The Motivation of Love

Jesus praying - gethsemane

The very foundation of Christianity is based on obedience and sacrifice.  In the garden before being arrested, Jesus “fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will'” (Matthew 26:39).  Jesus knew that God had placed him on the earth with a specific purpose, and He was obedient, even to the point of death.

“But he was wounded for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his stripes we are healed…”

Isaiah 53:5

It’s easy to put Jesus on a pedestal, right?  We can look up to him as our sacrifice, just like the serpent on Moses’s staff in the wilderness and say, “Yes, he is the only way by which I’m saved!” (Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-15).  But what next?  It’s necessary to remember that we could never add to the cross… none of our actions will ever make us more worthy of God’s grace.  But here’s a question that those who have looked on Christ as their Savior need to consider:

“What next?”

“Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”

John 15:20

Those are the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples!  Even though they were spoken two thousand years ago, they are just as true for us today.  We are no greater than our Teacher.  If we are to live a life that is hidden in Him, then our lives must also take on that requirement of obedience and sacrifice.  However, sacrifice and obedience must not be used to prove ourselves through the ability to deny the flesh… As we draw closer to Christ and become more and more hidden in Him, we’ll find that obedience and sacrifice come naturally for another reason:

love.

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome.”

1 John 5:1-3

In other words, once we’ve been saved through Jesus Christ, then we can love God.  When we love God, we will love His children, and when we love God, we will love His word.  When we love His word, we will delight to follow it. When we delight to obey God’s word, we will draw closer to Him, love His children, and–in all of this–become more like Christ.

And when we become more like Christ, we will grow in love for our Father.  We will delight even more in obedience to Him, even when it costs us the most painful sacrifices.  Nothing–not even the loss of worldly success, separation from family and friends, or even death–will keep us from following and serving the One that has already buried us in death and raised us to walk in newness of life to walk with Jesus Christ (Romans 6:4).

***

Is Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior?  Have you been raised to walk in newness of life, not for the flesh, but for godliness and to grow closer and closer to God?  Then ask yourself, “What does it look like to obey God’s word, to love His children, and become more and more like Christ?  What must I do in order for this to be true of my life?  What must I sacrifice?”  If you have not yet believed–even if you think you have but your actions do not prove a faith in Jesus that alone saves–what is holding you back?

To God alone be all the glory.  May He abound more and more in your life, and may the motivation of His love that He first gave us fuel your every action, spark your every thought, and determine your decisions today and every day.

Praying your day is filled with SONshine,

Sarah. signature

Obedience & Sacrifice

1 John 5.1-3

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Over the past few months, I’ve learned so much about sacrifice.  While pursuing a Masters degree, teaching classes as a TA, and other responsibilities, I honestly didn’t have much time for hobbies.  Perhaps for the first time in my life, I accepted the new reality in which writing was only “my hobby.”  With the strong temptation to dust off my manuscripts and write another devotional on this site rather than finish my school work, I had to set writing to the side.  Out of sight, yes, but “Compelled”, the manuscripts, the publishing how-to books, etc. could never…ever…ever… be truly nor completely out of mind.

How does this experience of my life relate to yours?  What’s the purpose of writing about it now besides to explain my absence from the blog?

As followers of Christ, we all must wrestle with the topics of obedience and sacrifice.  There will even come times in which we have to wrestle with questions like, “What does it mean to obey the calling of God?” and  “What sacrifices must I make in order to obey Him and fulfill His purpose through my life?

While I certainly don’t have the answers, I long to grow closer to God through asking these types of questions.  It’s my hope and prayer that you will find this as a place where you can come, be challenged to re-evaluate your relationship with God, and receive encouragement to earnestly seek Him!

Now after months of questioning, here’s what was laid on my heart about honoring God through obedience:

Obedience requires...

Over the next few days I’ll break down this statement into three separate posts.  I hope you’ll come back by and join me in this season of learning about obedience and sacrifice as necessary and also rewarding aspects of our relationship with God!