June 1-2, 2013
One of the great rewards I receive from full time ministry is “slaving for my Lord.” I say this a bit tongue in cheek because I haven’t really endured much hardship as I practice my faith. Sure, I have experienced heartache, loneliness, frustration, anger, bitterness, anxiety, depression, and fear. But all that psychological suffering occurred in my life before I made Jesus the Lord of my life. My transformation started in jail in 1987 and went full tilt in 1993.
Worse yet, all the suffering I mentioned was inflicted on me by ME! I was killing myself slowly with one poor decision after another. Blaming others, rationalizing my behaviors, and making lame excuses added up to so much self-inflicted persecution. What I want to talk about today is sacrifice, knowing that discomfort and danger are highly probable when we make the decision to honor God.
I was privileged to be invited to lead the first behavioral health team into Iraq after the fall of Sadam Hussein. Unrest and skirmishes were the norm along with occasional suicide bombings. Christians were being persecuted, yet the Minister of Health invited me to come. I brought 2 professionals with me: Jeff Black, PsyD, a Christian psychologist, and Leslie Vernick, LCSW, a Christian social worker. The 3 of us taught counseling skills to many different groups in the Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq.
As soon as we arrived in Iraq, our hosts, Ishbel and Josef, had an emerging situation on their hands. A man from their small local church who accepted Christ began receiving legitimate death threats from his brother. His Muslim family was embarrassed because he was putting pro-Jesus flyers on peoples’ windshields. The threats were real and acutely dangerous.
During the same trip, a Christian couple escaped from Baghdad and arrived at our hosts’ church in the middle of the night under gunfire because they would not renounce Christianity. Other stories ended in death. Thankfully, our team was never in physical danger as we had bodyguards with us for much of our trip.
On another occasion when I presented a six-day conference in Africa, one couple walked for five days to attend, wearing the same clothes the whole time including the walk home. One woman had to leave her family when she proclaimed her faith. I know of another in Africa who stayed in a violent situation because she felt God called her to do so. Then almost 40 of her family members and friends were saved after her death. My good friend, Celestin Musekura is a Rwandan national, lived through the genocide, and is occasionally physically threatened for his Christian impact in not-so-Christian-friendly places throughout Africa.
I am blessed. I have never experienced physical danger because of my faith. I did get reprimanded on 3 occasions by hospital employers for talking about Jesus and the Bible before I went into private practice. But, as I began writing, one of the joys and powerful activities of full-time ministry is hearing the many sacrifices Christians make for their Lord, whether it’s fasting, sacrificing power and money, being shunned by family, enduring physical hardship, or facing danger.
Jesus went to the cross for you. But would you walk 5 days to hear the Word of God? Would you give up extra money, a favorite food, caffeine, alcohol, power, or whatever else you are addicted to? How far would you walk? Why is it so hard to wake up on Sunday and get to 2 hours of time with God? Believe me, I ask myself these same hard questions. I am thankful God puts people in my life every day to show me why, both by word, and especially by deed.
Today, think about how much effort you put forth to praise God with others. Do you find time for God with only minimal effort, or when it fits into your schedule? Or do you sacrifice some of your “wants” to make regular time with God? How important is it to you to make it to church? What are you valuing more than Him? Will that object save you … or die for you? What are you willing to endure to worship God and meet Him each day? What you value, worship, and sacrifice for is your decision, so choose well.
Father God, Thank you so much for what You sacrificed for me. I am sad to tell You that I struggle to sacrifice for You. I know You are so worth me dying to self, but in the moment I choke, I chicken out and choose my own needs over selling out fully for You. When I do sacrifice for You, You peace and blessings are so powerful and sustaining, but I suffer from temporary amnesia mixed with selfishness. Thank You for other Christians who show me Your power in their life to see You will do the same for me. I pray this in the name of my savior and teacher, Jesus Christ; and all God’s children say – AMEN!
But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:14