Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My practice of preaching a “theme” for the new year, and of late, incorporating this into our Conference theme, was never intended to be a gimmick or trafficking in mere sloganism.  No, it is based on the conviction that the Holy Spirit is truly saying something to the church, at strategic times and places.  I consider Conference to be one of those times in our lives and churches.  This theme in part, then, becomes a reference and rallying-point for our faith as we move forward in God’s will throughout the year.

The inspiration “At All Costs” predates my personal medical conditions last year, 2011.  That wouldn’t make it inspiration but it would be projection of my challenges on to everyone else.  That is certainly not my intention.  Where it originated was the testimony of Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor who was arrested and convicted in Iran, and is facing the death penalty. What is his crime?  They call it apostasy, but it is in fact believing in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and being a faithful pastor in an Islamic country.  Right then and there I was “quickened” with the thought, at all costs.  Whether you are a pastor persecuted for your faith and faithfulness to the Gospel, or a housewife raising a Christ-centered family, or a plumber or teacher working a job but your main calling in life is to glorify Christ, or a student, or a lay leader in your church: we can ALL be faithful to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. The price tag is always the same: at all costs!  There are 3 potent truths that this is meant to present to our minds.  Think about them with me for just a bit.

Our Costly Salvation

This is the starting point for everything.  The foundation for our lives, our faith, our hope, our eternity, our service to God is based on the price paid by Jesus Christ for our salvation.  At the center of redemption is the love-motivated, obedient-to-His-Father self-sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.  John tells us, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1John 4:9,10) This is why we never move beyond of the Cross of Jesus Christ, for it is our measure and model, because it reveals two awesome realities.  First, it reveals for us the character of God.  Everything originated in the heart of God, and I can only truly grasp His character when I look to the Cross.  The second thing is it reveals the way to live as the redeemed and loved children of God.  John again told us, “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.” (1John 5:2,3)

Our Costly Service

I was intrigued by a question that was posed to a pastor of a huge mega-church, that over all the years what was the hardest topic he’s had tried to get across?  The hardest truth and theme to convey to people?  Without hesitation, he replied, “Becoming totally devoted to Christ.” One of the facts that church history teaches is that a leader can do more through a handful of totally devoted believers than through a Church full of half-hearted ones.  What’s so powerful about this is that it presents us with a a clear purpose for life.  The sub-title, “Serving God’s Purpose in Your Generation” gives a life context for every believer and follower of Jesus Christ.  The text tells us that David chose to center his life on serving and doing the will of God in every season and phase of life.  This gave him and you and I a singular focus for our lives.  Success in the Bible is only measured in the context of God’s will, where we shift from being devoted from living for my will to living for God’s will.  Grace, though wonderfully free, is by no means cheap but, true grace inspires both committed and costly service.  We’re talking about the driving force in our lives.  What gets you up in the morning and powers you through each day?  What floats your boat?  For David, for Paul, and for a host of others, it was the cause of Christ.  Jim Collins who has written extensively on the subject of leadership coined this phrase, “Level 5 Leader.”  This refers to someone who “blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will.”  They are very often strong leaders.  Collins went on, “their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves...for the company and concern for its success rather than for one’s own riches and personal renown.
How should I look at my life?  The Lord’s call is certainly beyond just comfort, east, or worldly success.  Life is a sacrifice, so offer it! (2Tim.4:6,7) “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  Life is also a currency, so spend it!  (2Cor.12:15) “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”


“Our Costly Sacrifice”

David grasped this in a powerful way!  When he chose to offer sacrifice to avert the plague that had descended on the land and was killing thousands of people, (2Sam.24:23-25) gives us the account, “All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king." And Araunah said to the king, "The Lord your God accept you."  But the king said to Araunah, "No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.”  He said he would not offer God that which did not cost him personally.  He knew that if he accepted Araunah’s gracious offer, there would be a missing element to his offering. 

This is why, beloved, to this day there is no such thing as “no cost” discipleship or Church planting.  I’m sorry, it does not exist.  Looking for bargains may be fine when shopping or doing business, but not the things of God.  There is a “cost factor” to all things.  We’re not talking here about the “fine print” but something that Jesus put right up front.  I think we’re all the same in many ways.  Most of us don’t look forward to reading the fine print in contracts and manuals like mobile phone contracts, or the licensing agreement in software purchase that ask you to click “Agree.”  Jesus spelled this out in discipleship, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?   Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.'  Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?  And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:28-33) The very essence of the Christian life is to give up our lives to Christ; to say “no” to yourself and give your life over totally to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yes, there is a cost to doing God’s will; but there’s also a cost to compromise and not doing God’s will...you decide!

As we begin our 2012 Bible Conference, I trust that the Holy Spirit will take God’s Word and this theme, and cause it to powerfully resonate in our lives and bring encouragement and fresh strength to our lives, our families, our ministries, and our careers.  I don’t have adequate words to express my gratitude for the faithful saints of God in our church in particular, which have been faithful to “serve God’s purpose in our generation.” Not because of coercion, but motivated by the love of God, they continue to invest and seek to be fruitful in every season of life.  In investment, there is what’s called the “risk-to-reward” ratio that must be considered: how much risk are we willing to bear in order to see an abundant return.  Jesus has already made clear for each and everyone of us how that correlates to serving Him. “And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”  In other words, He said you can take this to the bank: YOU WILL NEVER BE A LOSER IF YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE FOR GOD’S PURPOSE AND GOD’S GLORY!

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