Self-Sacrifice and Pleasing God

It was a hot summer day as the preachers assembled for their weekly prayer meeting. There was Father Jon Paul from the Catholic church. On his right sat Pastor Chris, the preacher from the next town over. Pastor Lee was there as host. Pastor Larry of the youth church sat next to him. And of course, there was Pastor Otter from St. Fred's. The group's chairman, Pastor Alan, the assemblies minister, would be coming along a little later. Pastor Art, who was both the Presbyterian and the Methodist minister, was tied up but would be joining them later for lunch.

There was a wonderful feeling of acceptance and love at this minesterial alliance. The seven of them each loved to be in the company of those who love God. There were no denominational walls. No forcing of opinions on one another. Just Christian men coming before their master as one.

Pastor Alan turned up just as prayer was ending, offering his profuse apologies, but trusting that the other ministers had prayed for what needed praying for. That was when Pastor Chris asked his question.

He asked whether the other ministers had noticed in their town a phenomenon he'd noticed in his. The area had been in such an awful drought. This drought caused people to seek the Lord for relief. Yet as soon as the Lord sent rain, the people would go right back to excluding Him from their daily lives.

"I think people tend to think of God as a genie." said Alan. "They rub the lamp when they need something."

Of course, this was not the first time this had ever happened. Any thorough study of the history of Israel will show how the nation was constantly turning to idolotry and other evil practices, bringing the Lord's wrath upon them. As soon as the people cried out for relief, God responded and let up. within a generation, Israel was back in sin again.

We all know how much the Lord has done for us. How much he continues to do for us. Jesus sacrificed Himself to save us. What kinds of sacrifices do we make for Him?

Today, I'd like to talk about three ways in which we may and often do fail to reciprocate God's acts of love and how we can correct these failings.

The three biggest areas are all addressed briefly in Jude 11.

11 Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.
The way of Cain, the error of Balaam and the gainsaying of Core. Or more concisely, the failings of what, why and who.

Let's begin at the beginning, with the way of Cain- the failing of what.
Genesis 4:3-8

3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
6 And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
What did Cain do wrong? Is it wrong to give God vegetables? No, it's not wrong. The problem is that this is not what God asked for. Though we don't have record of it this early on, we know that God set some very strict guidelines for sacrifices. Only the blood of animals would ever be an acceptable sacrifice. Why? Because the sacrifices were a pointer to the future sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah.

Similar incidents happened throughout the centuries. In Israel's middle days, a common practice was to give God the sickly animals from the herd. The lame, the old, the blemished, the deformed. Yet because the sacrifice was demonstrative of Jesus, it had to be without blemish. Even if this were not true, presenting God the worst of your possessions is nothing short of insulting.

God gives us everything we have. All matter and energy comes from Him and was created by Him. Oh, sure, you can work for a living and earn what you make, but who gave you the ability to work?

Have you withheld anything from God that is His due? Now I'm not going to beg for money. I'm not that kind of preacher. We have more than we need right now. But I'd like each of you to ask yourself if you're holding back something which God requires of you. It might be money. It might be your old clothes. It might be a few groceries. Perhaps the use of your house or car.

It almost amazes me that Cain became insensed that God was displeased with his offering. What amazes me more is that his reaction was to take it out on Abel. It would have been so easy just to offer God what He asked for. If Cain didn't have any livestock, he could have traded for one. Abel was an amenable guy, he would have helped his brother out. But no. Cain had fixed in his mind the idea that his sacrifice was good enough when it really wasn't a sacrifice at all.

The second failing is the error of Balaam. I'm sure you remember the story from a month or two back. but let's go over it again. Just the first part.
Numbers 22:11-22

11 Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which covereth the face of the earth: come now, curse me them; peradventure I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out.
12 And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.
13 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes of Balak, Get you into your land: for the LORD refuseth to give me leave to go with you.
14 And the princes of Moab rose up, and they went unto Balak, and said, Balaam refuseth to come with us.
15 And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.
16 And they came to Balaam, and said to him, Thus saith Balak the son of Zippor, Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from coming unto me:
17 For I will promote thee unto very great honour, and I will do whatsoever thou sayest unto me: come therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people.
18 And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more.
19 Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will say unto me more.
20 And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do.
21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.
22 And God's anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.
One of the most important lesson we can learn from this passage is that just because God allows something doesn't mean He's okay with it. Balaam's failure was an unwillingness to do as God ordered. God had told him in no uncertain terms that he was not to go with the king's men and Balaam knew perfectly well why. Yet because the king was offering him a great reward, Balaam thought to push his luck and see if God might change his mind.

Balaam's failure was an unwillingness to make the sacrifice of action. And I wonder sometimes why anyone would ever be willing to disobey God. When someone loves you enough to die for you and is all-seeing and all-knowing, doesn't it make sense that doing wat He says will turn out for the ultimate good?

Remember what David said in Psalm 19:

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.
If keeping the law of the lord brings great reward, what does disobedience get you?

Consider Achan. God had instructed the Israelites to take no spoils from Jerricho. Yet Achan took a Babylonian garment, a wedge of gold and some silver and burried it in his tent. Because of the disobedience of one man, God would not fight for Israel. Many men lost their lives in the battle of Ai because of Achan.

To this day, when God withholds his blessings from a church or fellowship because of one person's disobedience, that person is said to be an "Achan in the camp".

Or take Annanias and Saphira, members of the first century church. They were the very first to try to lie to the Holy Spirit in order to gain unearned reward. Now Anni and Saphy weren't by any means required to donate anything to the church. Whatever they did donate was purely up to them. This was pointed out to them. Yet both of them lied and told the Lord that what they were giving was everything they had gotten from the sale of their land. That act of contempt toward God was the turning point that brought about the end of what had been a golden age during which the church was unified, denominationalism was unheard of, communism actually worked and love was the only law that was needed among believers.

For actions, I've used the adverb "why" because the reasons we do things are as important as the actions themselves. The poor widow who puts two mites in the coffer is doing so because that's all she has. A rich man might be doing so because that's all he wants to spare. same action, different hearts.

I'd like each of us to look into ourselves again. Are their any actions which we have failed to sacrifice to the Lord? Any sinful habits? Any attitudes? Any little piece of contrary nature?

The third failing is the gainsaying of Core. Core, incidently, is the Greek version of Korah. Let's read up on what it was Korah said.
Numbers 16:

1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:
2 And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:
3 And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?
Korah's failing was the unwillingness to sacrifice not his possessions, not his actions, but himself.

Korah could have done nearly anything he wanted to. This man was very influential, very charismatic, and had the ability to talk big names into doing what he wanted. The problem was that he was unwilling to do what God wanted him to do. He wanted Moses' job.

Korah reminds me of someone else who felt slighted and so attempted to usurp leadership. Satan.

It also reminds me of many people today who want to assume roles of religious leadership. "Why shouldn't I?" they say. "I'm as good as anyone else!"

That was exactly what Korah said. He thought he was as good as Moses. But who was Moses? Let's see... He was a murderer. He was a bit of a coward, at least until he was 80. He also had a very nasty temper which eventually resulted in his being banned from Israel.

Moses didn't get his position because he was holy. He got the position because God chose him and he was willing to obey God's orders even though he knew full well that he was not worthy. He even tried to argue his way out of the job. He halfway succeeded, too. But ultimately, Moses gave himself to God as a living sacrifice. All that he was, he gave to God. Korah didn't seek to give anything. He just wanted to take the honor and authority that Moses had. As a result, God made his choice known quite publicly by causing the Earth to open up and swallow Korah and his followers.

When you go to God, do you demand to be accepted on your own terms? Do you insist that He be everything for you without your having to change a thing? Or are you willing, like Zachaeus, like David, like Daniel, like Esther, to be exactly what He wants you to be?

As for myself, God is not only my creator, but my redeemer. He has twice over earned the right to deal with me on His own terms, not mine.

This is especially true in light of the great sacrifice God the Son made in order to be that redeemer. He endured torture, humiliation and death so that we could be made acceptable to God. Neither do we even have to do the work of transforming ourselves. If we are but willing to obey, the Holy Spirit will complete that work in us.

If you have not accepted this redemption and transformation which the Lord offers, I encourage you to do so today.

Pastor Oren Otter
June 30, 2006

Today's reading
Psalm 100:

1 A Psalm of praise. Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.
2 Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
3 Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
5 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.