You know you have heard a good word in church when after a week of hearing the message your heart is still burning within you like that of the two disciples who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Luke 24:13-35. The first Sunday after turning 50 (June 21), I arrived in church on a quest for a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God. Whereas my resolution was no more than an aspiration at the beginning of the service, at the end of it, I found myself leaving church with a workable blueprint. It explains why for most of the week I have been left feeling like Moses after his encounter with God on Mt Sinai, with the Ten Commandments to show for his troubles. Exodus 20.
“A Christian life is a life of sacrifice”, the preacher declared at the top of his message. As far as first salvoes go, that sure did hit me right between the eyes. Once used to listening to a different kind of gospel, which as Apostle Paul put it, was no gospel at all, the speaker’s claim made me wince in my seat. ‘A life of sacrifice?’ I muttered to myself. Wondering why I was only just hearing this for the first time, a man clearly on a mission employed scripture to corroborate his point:
“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24.
Deny himself? Take up his cross? Follow me? Deep in thought about how to even begin to grapple with any of these three concepts, I soon had a crucial fourth to worry about. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Romans 12:1.
A living sacrifice? Immediately, I recalled the content of a particular email a dearly treasured sister had sent me a few days prior. In the said email was a detailed, and meticulous explanation, of how all the 12 apostles of Jesus, bar John the beloved, met with a perilous end. It was my Demas moment. 2 Timothy 4:10. For a moment, I wondered whether I too was going to forsake the gospel and return to the world. But somehow I found myself firmly rooted to my seat.
Still wrestling with the whole concept in my mind, the preacher, in a massive onslaught on my heart, hit me with not a few relevant and penetrating scriptures. In the end, raising the white flag, in a very hushed voice I said: ‘Alright, I hear you. The life of a Christian is a living sacrifice. But where is the beef?’ I mean all this talk about sacrifice is great, but what is one supposed to do? I sure hope beheading like Apostle Paul is not part of the equation? Nor being torn apart tied to horses travelling in different directions like Apostle Mark? Or, never mind he miraculously survived the ordeal (to write the Book of Revelation of course!), being drowned in boiling oil like Apostle John, the beloved disciple of Christ? Thankfully, I was soon put out of my misery. And the list of what the speaker said God was demanding of us, The Five Pillars of Sacrifice, although challenging, is absolutely nothing compared to what the early apostles suffered for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
The Sacrifice of Praise – Any mention of the word praise quickly conjures in my mind the image of David, a chap God loved so much He described him ‘a man after my own heart.’ Acts 13:22. I wasn’t surprised therefore when the preacher delved into the psalms to take the first couple of scriptures to buttress his argument on the subject of praise. Psalm 141:2 and Psalm 107:2. In the first the speaker was setting his stall how prayer, an integral component of praise, should be set before God like an incense. And the second underscores the importance of boasting in our salvation. ‘Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.’ Indeed, we must praise God chief of all for our salvation – A priceless gift to all sinners through His Son Jesus Christ.
Wrapping up his case on Sacrifice of Praise, Prayer and Thanksgiving – the speaker took his audience to the Book of Hebrews. “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise tom God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.’ Hebrews 13:15. The word ‘continually’ naturally reminded me of, you guessed it, David. “From the rising of the sun, to the going down of the same, the name of the Lord be praised.” Psalm 113:3. So, there you have it Brethren, come hell or high water, perpetual praise is what the Almighty God demands us. Amen. Amen.
The Sacrifice of Good Works – Ray Comfort and The Way of the Master immediately popped up in my mind. If I understood Comfort correctly, he was saying: forget good works, the only way to heaven is accepting that you are a sinner, accept God’s gift of salvation, Christ, and hey, presto, heaven beckons. ‘Well, hold it, hold it’, the pastor of this small church in Wealdstone with a big heart seemed to be saying. Soon enough, he read the words of Christ on the subject in Matthew 22:37-40. Latching onto ‘Though shall love thy neighbour as thyself’, it dawned on me that if I can just be half as considerate to others as I am to myself, I will be well on the way to truly being an ambassador of good works as we all must be if we truly belonged to Christ. Already more than half of the way persuaded on this Good Works business, a reference to a scripture from one of the famed epistles of Paul completely won me over. “As we have therefore the opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:10. Since a brother, a good student of the Bible, recently told me that whenever I come across a word like ‘therefore’ in scriptures, I should look at the preceding verse. ‘Why, this is as good a time to heed this sound advice than any’, I thought. And what did I find in the preceding verse, Brethren? ‘Let us not be weary in well doing.’ It rather settles the matter.
The Sacrifice of Fellowship – I know from observation that fellowship is one thing the world has got over us believers. To coin a phrase, you spend your life doing sex, drugs and rock and roll, then you forsake all, embrace Christ, and expect a life of boon thereafter. Well, once you manage to get your head out of the clouds, you will come to realise that believers are not as keen to give you the time of the day as your forsaken friends in the world. But as guilty of this charge as any other believer, I was mighty keen to know what Pastor D’Souza’s take was on it all.
In some of his instruction to his understudy, Timothy, Apostle Paul said: “That they do good, that they be rich in good works (Blimey, we are back to good works again!), ready to distribute, willing to communicate.” 1 Timothy 6:18. Focusing on ‘willing to communicate’ from that passage in the Bible like moth to light, the pastor smashed to smithereens the very foundation of the unholy alliance of I, Me and Myself – Selfishness, the very thing at the heart of this sacrilege of Christians refusing to fellowship with one another. Certainly not the way of Christ. And it is a message that has left me in sack clothes and ashes since.
Sacrifice of Giving – I started out a generous Christian. But after 20 years in the charismatic church, I was left wary of even taking my wallet to church. What with the jet set lifestyle which is now a rite of passage for every would-be Pentecostal pastor? In the end I concluded, these soul gangsters can huff and puff all they like, I was not going to be anybody’s milking cow. Now at a Reformed church established in 1921, where the incumbent pastor on a modest salary, lives in a manse provided by the church, the days of hiding my wallet at home are over. During the notices, when the deacon announces that ‘an offering will be taken at the end of the notices to aid the work of the gospel locally’, I take what he says on face value. Why wouldn’t I? In spite of his many responsibilities in the church, a physician by profession, like most of us, he wakes up in the morning and goes out to make a living. Nevertheless, I knew I still had a few more things to learn about giving. So, I listened intently.
A certain meeting between Apostle Paul and certain Ephesian Elders was pointed out to me by the preacher. Amongst other things, while admonishing his audience, Paul said: “I have been a constant example of how you can help those who in need by working hard” Acts 20:35 (NLT). From this, I construed, while it is noble to have the heart to give, work, for those whom God has blessed with the strength and energy, is the first imperative. I tell you the truth, what I enjoyed most of this segment of this amazing sermon I heard on Sunday was noting Apostle Paul’s attitude to receiving. Some Christians are good givers, but poor receivers. Devoid of ego and pride, Apostle Paul, no work-shy shyster, did not suffer from this complex. “I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God” Philippians 4:18. Some no doubt will see Apostle Paul as a charity case, but I see an erstwhile prideful Pharisee reformed by Christ, at ease to give as well as to receive. Amen. Amen.
Sacrifice of Holiness – ‘Only God is holy’ was the first thought that came to my mind as the preacher embarked on the last plank of his exposition. True enough, but frankly I was looking for a cop-out. ‘Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ Matthew 5:48. ‘Oh, do cut me some slack Holy Spirit’ I groaned, as I adjusted myself in my seat to listen to the preacher. Soon enough I was hurled back to Romans 12. Only this time the preacher took me and the rest of the congregation through the second verse in the chapter with a fine toothcomb. ‘Be not conformed to this world’, ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your heart’, and wait for it, ‘that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.’ By the time I finished, I went, ‘Crikey, this is impossible’ Then, like a flash of lightening, at that instance I remembered two sacred words from the gospels: ‘Follow Me.’ This is no Twitter-talk, following Christ is truly the quickest route to a life of holiness and by extension doing the perfect will of the Father.
The definition of pure religion, as against the poor imitation all too evident these days, was pointed out to me. James 1.27. Proverbs 19:17 being one of my favourite scriptures, the injunction in this verse in the Book of James to give to the fatherless and widows was like preaching to the converted. But a particular phrase in that verse got me really thinking. A Christian, it claims, must be ‘unspotted from the world’ Hmmm. Clearly I still have a lot to learn. A great deal more. In closing the pastor was deliberating on the many injunctions of Apostle Paul in Colossians 3. All fascinating stuff, but I had heard more than enough to set me on the straight and narrow. Collapsing on my two knees as the sermon was wrapped up and prayers said, I said a little prayer of my own ‘Dear Lord, however long I live, however many more sermons I listen to, don’t let me ever forget this one.’ Amen. Amen.