The Nature of Sacrifice- Matthew 20:18-19, 28; John 15:13

Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death,
And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.
Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

COMMENTARY

Even as the Son of man came not to give his life a ransom for many
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends

The way Jesus viewed his mortal life was quite distinct. Where so many of us covet our lives and insist on using them for our own purposes, he instead saw his as something to be given as a ransom, something to be laid down for others. We see our lives as a jealous possession. He saw it as a currency, one which could be spent for the redemption of others.
I think that when most of us hear the word “sacrifice” we think that we are giving something up to be destroyed. Essentially turning something of worth into no value. But the example of Christ is not that things sacrificed or made devoid of worth. Rather they are spent for the enriching of our fellow man.
While we are not called to die for the sins of all mankind, we too can make our lives a currency in the treasury of God. We can “spend” our time in the service of others. We can “give” our attention to enrich our brothers and sisters. We can “donate” our energy to spread humanity throughout the world.

The Nature of Sacrifice- Personal Example

In a previous study I examined the differences between sacrifice and consecration, and I talked about how I was afraid that God would ask me to sacrifice my love for writing, where in reality He only sought that I consecrate it for a greater good. Of course, there are other things which God has asked me to sacrifice, but I do not regret the loss of any of them.

Here is one example.

I didn’t play my first video game until my mid-teens, but once I tasted them I fell deeply in love. As soon as I got away to college, and had control of my days, I would play them non-stop, never mind what classes I was supposed to be attending. After a few years I was able to ease off the gas somewhat, but basically if I didn’t have to be doing something else, then games was where you would find me.

It wasn’t that I thought that video games deserved such a high priority in my life, I knew perfectly well that they were quite trivial in the eternal scheme of things. But at that point I needed them. At that point there were a lot of unhealthy habits and lingering wounds all around me. I wasn’t dealing with them, and video games were one of the only things that gave me a distraction from them all. I thought it was peace.

Interestingly, God never actually asked me to sacrifice video games, He just gave me real peace. He pushed me to address those underlying wounds and fears, and then soothed the resultant pains with His love. I didn’t need to hide from those hard parts of life anymore, because they were genuinely being healed.

Then, naturally, I started playing games so much less. I sacrificed them without even thinking about it. Now that the real world was finally a place that I could live without shame, I was much more interested in engaging with it. I became a better husband and father, and started spending genuine quality time with my family.

In fact most of the gaming I do now is social. I play a lot more board games and card games, because it is easier to include other people in them. Our family regularly works through puzzles and legos together. Many of the video games that I purchase now are specifically chosen for their cooperative elements, so that I can play them alongside of my wife and son.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t ever play single-person games during my me-time, but it is far less than before, often with a few months between sessions. More importantly, when I do play them, it is for the actual enjoyment of them, not to escape. I do not need them anymore you see. I do still have needs, but God has given me something far better to take care of them.

The Nature of Sacrifice- John 12:24, Matthew 16:25

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

COMMENTARY

Except a corn of wheat die, it abideth alone
Whosoever will save his life shall lose it
Each one of us is given something at birth: a life to live. It is the greatest gift we possess, and it is ours to do with as we will. Understandably, we tend to put a lot of value in that life and guard it jealously. We avoid anything that we deem a danger to it, and prickle at the notion of someone else taking control of it. These instinctive tendencies of ours are good things, and they represent a healthy mentality.
But then, sometimes, the one that gave us that life asks us to give Him back a part of it. In some cases He even asks for all of it! And then those protective tendencies start to prove a hindrance. They naturally balk at the request. If we listen to them, and refuse our creator’s request, then we might be able to keep our life, but now it will be alone and empty.

But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit
Whosoever will lose his life shall find it
If, however, we overcome the natural man, we might be able to give a completely bizarre and unnatural response, instead. We might agree to part with that which we have. In this case we take our precious life and hand it over, saying “it isn’t for me to choose anymore, God, you steer this thing where you want it to go.”
Make no mistake, it is a hard thing to do. Even Jesus hesitated at the prospect of it, and wondered if the cup could be taken from him. But, in the end, he settled on the mantra “not my will, but thine be done.” And because of it, he was resurrected, and the life he gave up was replaced by one that was better. So it will be for each of us as well. We have to be willing to part with the good things we have if we are to ever have space to receive the better.

The Nature of Sacrifice- Galatians 2:20, Matthew 10:38-39

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

COMMENTARY

I am crucified with Christ, but Christ liveth in me
I have already discussed how the nature of our sacrifice is to reform us to be in the image of Christ. This passage from Paul further stresses that Christ is also our exemplar in that sacrifice. Yes, he performed his atonement to cleanse our sins, but he also did it to demonstrate for us what we must do.
There is a beautiful intersection here of Christ’s sacrifice and our own. We sacrifice to become like him, and he sacrifices so that that is even possible. Were it not for his atonement, then it wouldn’t matter what we tried to sacrifice, we wouldn’t be able to experience the necessary change of heart. We might take a leap of faith, but there would be nothing to catch us on the other side.
This signifies that there is an order to sacrifice. Christ’s is the first, the prerequisite that allows us to make our own. Strange as it might sound, the freedom that Christ wins for us is the freedom to sacrifice; the freedom to not have to hold onto the old.

And he that taketh not his cross is not worthy of me
He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it
And now consider Christ’s famous pronouncement that only those who are willing to lose their life shall find it. He is not telling us that if we give up our old life then we’ll get it back again later. That wouldn’t be a sacrifice, after all, that would be a loan. No, what we give up will truly be given up, and the life that he promises we will find is not our old one back again. The life that we find will be an entirely new one: his life. We are to bear our cross, be “crucified with Christ,” and trust that as we do this new life will emerge.

Peace in the Storm- Summary

I have had my own storms in life, and doing this study helped me process those experiences. It has been about a year since the most intense storm was finally dispelled, and I am grateful to be in the calm now. I will certainly enjoy this reprieve, but I am not so naive as to think that I will never have a trial again.

I do not know which challenges still lay ahead, I only know that they are out there and that they will be truly difficult. In fact I know that they will exceed me, and that the only way through them will be to rely on my Savior.

For me this study was about both looking back towards past storms and forward to next ones, using my bubble of peace to see things clearly while I can. In this study there were three main themes that I hope to remember the next time I’m surrounded by wind and rain.

All are subject to storms

We are not spared the trials of life by being faithful. Nor are we spared the trials of life by giving in to the world. I have heard both of these fictions preached, and each is meant to dissuade one’s faith.
The quietly content saint still has to face the realities of loss and death, and the prospering hedonist still has to face the anguish of a dissatisfied conscience. Everyone loses things, no matter what other comforts they have. Everyone dies, no matter what well-being they have enjoyed. Even the Son of God was not free from suffering.
Some storms can be avoided, and we’re certainly justified in sailing around the ones that we can. But some storms simply have to be gone through, and it doesn’t do one any good to deny it.
Matthew 27:46- And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

God Supports us…and lets us stand alone

Perhaps the most common mistake we make when we ride into a storm is to try and fix it ourselves. We have this stupid pride that makes us feel that this is our problem, so we have to solve it alone. Or perhaps we feel embarrassed because we willfully steered ourselves into this problem, so we don’t feel worthy of receiving aid. Either way, we deny the aid of God, and also of the friends that he sends along our way.
Frankly God doesn’t care about either your pride or your guilt. Those simply do not matter to Him when there is a child that needs saving. So why not ask if this storm can be removed? And if it cannot be removed, why not ask if it can be lightened?
But how should you feel if you do ask for help and it isn’t given? Because sometimes God doesn’t intervene, or at least not in ways that we can recognize. Sometimes He leaves you to stand on our own. In this moment remember that He is leaving you to stand on your own, not to be broken on your own. He only withdraws when He knows you have the strength to ride this one out solo. His absence is His vote of confidence in you.
Matthew 23:37- How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings,
2 Corinthians 4:8-9- We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;

Our goal is to quiet the storm within

We have to make peace with the fact that many things in this world are beyond our control. Bad things will happen to us and those we love, and we will not be able to prevent it. Even with God’s help, some things will remain out of our control.
At least so it is for storms external. For the storms within, though, these can be controlled. We can live in perfect tranquility, never mind the raging all around. How is this possible? Well, by ourselves it isn’t. To achieve this state of peace we have to have help from a being that both has the power of a God, but also the humanity of a man.
For this reason Jesus Christ was sent to endure, and defeat, all worldly pain. His great sacrifice does not take the evil out of the world (not yet, anyway). But what it does do is take the evil out of our hearts. Truly we say that he overcame the world, but we do not see that victory universally. For now the manifestation of it is only localized within individuals.
Alma 7:12- And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
John 16:33- In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

That They Might Have Joy- Question

Last Sunday I attended a conference for all of our local church branches. I felt deeply filled as I listened to the sermons given. The topic of the whole conference was that of joy, and each speaker addressed a different aspect of it: joy within families, joy through creativity, joy as an abiding peace, etc.

I found myself wanting to do a study of my own on the subject. Each one of us wishes to obtain joy in life, and God has declared that this is what He wishes for us as well. However there are many different ideas in the world for how one attains it: from hedonism, to just letting go of expectations, to applying oneself to meaningful labor.

In this study I would like to examine what joy itself is. I would like to find whether it can be reliably pursued, or whether it just comes and goes on a whim. If it can be pursued, I would like to identify which methods can best secure it for us. Finally, I would like to consider what one can do in those moments where feeling joy seems impossible. As part of this study I will also examine what elements bring me joy in my personal life.

In the meantime I’d love to hear your own takes on the matter. What brings you joy in your life? What destroys it? How do you resolve not feeling joyful, even when nothing bad has happened? How do you resolve feeling joyful, even when you cannot think of a reason why?

Service to Others- Luke 10:34-37

And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

COMMENTARY

And went to him, and bound up his wounds
Go, and do thou likewise

What was it that the Samaritan did for the wounded man? Binding wounds, healing and anointing him, carrying his burden, placing him in safety…he gave him the sustenance of life.
When Jesus told us to “go and do likewise” I don’t think his injunction was only to watch out for men dying on the side of the road. I mean, yeah, if we ever see that we should do something about it! But more generally I believe he is asking us to give the sustenance of life to others.
And as we do so, we should remember that not all wounds are visible and not all hungers make a noise. Just as people need food and drink, they also need to feel seen, appreciated, heard, and wanted. And these are the needs that people are usually the most starved for, because these are the ones they cannot give to themselves.
We have an epidemic of emotionally dehydrated people. Every now and again one of them will cry for help, but more often they stay quiet, walking around and looking “perfectly fine” on the outside.
When you give service to others it isn’t just “doing something nice,” it is literally preserving life.