THREE QUESTIONS ABOUT SACRIFICE IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

by Roger Severino 
  1. Is sacrifice the entry point or the graduate school of the Christian life? It’s both. There is no Christianity without self-denial. You cannot come to Jesus without a surrendering of your will to His. “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”[1] If you have never said “no” to yourself in order to say “yes” to Jesus, then you are not a follower, according to Jesus. Sacrifice and self-denial are part of the response required. Once we make that initial surrender, however, sacrifice continues to be the way that we follow Jesus and grow spiritually. We surrender the throne of our lives to Him and allow Jesus to do His work in us and through us.
  2. Is self-denial the ultimate goal? No, sacrifice and self-denial is not the end game. The Christian life is not simply about emptying ourselves of self-will or self-focus. We don’t earn God’s favor by how much we give up. We don’t try to pay back God for what He has done for us by trying to match His sacrifices. When we deny ourselves, we are actually giving up the lesser for the greater. We give up a life of being enslaved to ourselves so we can surrender Jesus, who comes to give us abundant life (see John 10:10). Being enslaved to ourselves can be the worst kind of slavery. As strange as it seems, it is in surrendering ourselves to Christ that we find true freedom and joy. So self-denial is not an end in itself. We release control of our lives so that we may embrace Christ, who is the goal. And in holding on to Jesus we find that what we gain far exceeds what we give up.

    Photo credit: Joe Hendricks

    Roger Severino, Adult Discipleship – Leadership Minister

  3. What does it mean to be a living sacrifice? In Romans 12:1, Paul says: “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.”[2] In the Old Testament, sacrifices were offered on the altar as something that shed its blood and died for the sins of the people. Our spiritual worship directed to God involves being a living sacrifice. What does this mean? It means that though we live, we no longer live for ourselves but for Christ. We live as if we have died, and that the life we are now given does not belong to us but to God. We are given stewardship of this life, but God is the owner. Are you living this way? I’ve heard it said that the problem with living sacrifices is that they want to crawl down from the altar. Do I willingly submit myself to God and live my life as a sacrifice to Him, or do I crawl off the altar so that I can live my own life? One of the best ways to live this principle out is found in the next verse of Romans 12: “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”[3] May God renew our minds by His Word so that He can transform us more into the likeness of His Son. 

[1] The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009), Lk 9:23.
[2] The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009), Ro 12:1.
[3] The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009), Ro 12:2.

SEVEN HANDLES TO GUIDE YOUR PRAYER LIFE

by Roger Severino

Simply put, prayer is communicating with God, where we both speak and listen. It is important to remember that prayer happens in the context of a relationship, and is not simply a religious practice to perform. We have the great privilege of coming before the Lord of the universe who invites us into His presence. Yet for many of us, prayer can be so elusive. How do we pray? What do we do in prayer?

Here are seven handles that I have used at one time or another to guide my prayer life.

  1. Use a Simple Tool to Guide Your Prayer. Early on I was introduced to the ACTS of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. I begin by adoring God for who He is. Turning my thoughts God-ward will inevitably reveal my imperfections and lead me to confess my sins, both in thought and deed, both those of commission (what I have done wrong) and those of omission (the good which I failed to do). Then, I give thanks for all the blessings God has given me, both the circumstantial and my spiritual blessings (which transcend circumstances). I end with supplication, which is both petition (voicing my needs) and intercession (praying for others). More recently, I have learned PRAY: Praise, Repent, Ask, and Yield. I praise God for who He is, I repent from ways I have dishonored God, I ask for both my needs and the needs of others, and end with yielding to God, submitting my will to His. Both these acrostics are helpful tools to guide our prayers.
  2. Read a Prayer Out Loud. Voicing a prayer is a good way to pray. The most obvious way to do this is to read a prayer from Scripture, such as the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) or a Psalm. Also, there are prayer books that collect a variety of prayers to pray. My favorite one is The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. Reading through the prayers in this devotional reveals how superficial our modern prayers tend to be. When I read out loud, I change the “thee’s” and “thy’s” to “you” and “your” to keep it from sounding too archaic. I have found that these prayers do heart surgery in a way that few other things do.
  3. Using the Psalms in Prayer. As noted above, one way to pray is simply to read a Psalm out loud to get our mind in the proper framework to pray. At our Immersion Conference in February, 2014, Dr. Don Whitney showed us some other ways to use the Psalms so that they help prompt your prayers. The Psalms may point out a characteristic of God that you wish to praise, or it may voice a lament that gives voice to your sorrows. But the Psalms can guide prayers in other ways. I may read Psalm 1:1 about the blessed man who guards himself from evil influences and this may prompt me to pray for my 8th grade son who is at a pivotal time in life where he will both be influenced by peers, and will influence others. Or, the word “walk” in this verse may prompt me to pray for a dear friend who has sustained an injury and is having trouble walking. Using the Psalms in this way can refresh our prayer lives and keep us from praying about the same old things in the same old way.
  4. Sometimes We Think Prayer is Talking to God. Probably more importantly, however, prayer is about listening to God. We get away from the busyness, noise, and distractions of life to sit still and hear the inner voice of God speaking to us.
  5. Being Intentional About Who and What to Pray For. In the back of my journal, I have a Prayer Journal Method that has eight blocks on it, created by drawing a line down the middle and then 3 horizontal lines across the page. The top left block is labeled “daily” and includes things like my immediate family members. The remaining blocks are the seven days of the week and allow me to pray for people and things on a weekly basis. This may include extended family, close friends, co-workers, pastors/leaders at church, and missionaries. Also, I have used the book Operation World to guide my prayers for God’s work among the nations of the world.
  6. Getting Away to Pray. One of my favorite things to do is to walk around Radnor Lake and spend an hour or more in prayer. Often, I am walking around and simply letting my thoughts go and getting my mind cleared. Usually, it takes me 30 minutes or so to then be able to pray effortlessly, communing with God in nature. Also, on occasion, I will go on an overnight prayer retreat where I will devote time to prayer, reflection, and reading. Getting away to pray on an occasional basis can really enhance your prayer life.
  7. Prayer without Ceasing. Though there is great benefit in having designated times of prayer, we also understand that prayer should ultimately be a way of living. Driving in the car, changing a baby’s diaper, booting up your computer, a pause before a difficult conversation, these are all opportunities to recognize God’s presence and realize He is with you in all things. These are great moments to receive His grace and strength and to ask for His wisdom for the day.

FIVE SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO READ THE BIBLE

by Roger Severino

If you have been around followers of Jesus or church life for any length of time, you probably know that Christians are encouraged to read the Bible. In the Scriptures, we encounter Christ and learn of what it means to be in right relationship with God and we receive instructions about how to live and grow spiritually. But how do we read the Bible? Where do we start? Do we simply open it up to a random spot and start reading?

Here are five approaches I have taken to reading the Bible on a regular basis.

  1. Read the Bible through in a year. About every 5-10 years, I try to read the Bible from cover to cover. Usually I have some sort of reading plan that has me in different parts of the Bible. There are many “through the Bible in a year” Bibles that you can find at a Christian bookstore that has a reading plan built in. On January 1 (or Day 1), you may read Genesis 1-3, Matthew 1, and a Psalm and a few verses in Proverbs. Following this plan will get you through the entire Bible in 12 months. Or, there are Chronological Bibles that try to lay out the text in proper order of sequence (as best we know the timing of the actual writing or events). The benefit of this type of approach is that you are exposed to the entire Bible and get to see the big picture of all it contains within a year’s reading.
  1. Read the entire Old Testament once, the New Testament twice, and the Psalms twice in 2-4 years. My favorite Bible reading companion is D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God (Volume One and Volume Two). Each day includes four different passages of Scripture that gets you through the Old Testament, the New Testament twice, and the Psalms twice. Volume One offers comments from Dr. Carson on one of the first two readings, and Volume Two gives commentary on either the third or fourth reading. A two-year plan means that you are reading both the first two passages listed the first year, and the third and fourth passage listed the second year. A four-year plan means that you are reading only one of the passages listed per day. The wonder of this resource is that Dr. Carson has an amazing ability to offer insights on the text, place it within the framework of the storyline of the Bible, and also offer practical application for today. All this on a single page. The benefit of this approach is that it helps you read through the entire Bible in 2-4 years and gain insight from one of today’s top Bible scholars.
  1. Read the Bible with the aid of a Bible study resource or curriculum. Currently, I am using two Bible study aids to help me engage the text of scripture. I am working through our church’s Foundations Curriculum on Spiritual Practices and also through an InterVarsity Press small group guide on selected Psalms written by Eugene Peterson. Both of these resources help me engage the text and ask reflective questions which call me to respond in writing. There is something about reflecting on a Bible text and writing a response that engages me in a different way than simply reading it. Also, I am gaining insights and challenges from the author of the resource as we both engage the same text of Scripture.
  1. Study a book of the Bible. Often, I will read through a specific book of the Bible from beginning to end, usually going slow enough through it that I am reading either a section of a chapter, or no more than a full chapter at a time. I often do this with some type of inexpensive journal where I am writing reflections on the text, or at times simply copying the text I am reading (this may sound strange, but I think we process a text differently when we write it down). The advantage to this approach is that you can delve more deeply and really try to understand and apply a specific book of the Bible.
  1. Reading the Bible with the aid of a devotional. Our church provides a daily devotional we call JourneyOn Today. You can find it on our web site and we even have a mobile app for that. Most mornings, this is the first thing I read. Typically it includes a passage of Scripture followed by a devotional written by one of our members or staff. Usually, they come in series where there is a theme that will tie in the different days over a period of time. Of course, you can find various types of devotionals in a Christian bookstore or even on the web. It can be nice to read a text often within the framework of a theme and hear the reflections and thoughts of another brother or sister in Christ. Often, they will have an insight or application of the text that is appropriate but that I had not considered. It can be beneficial to read the reflections of others on a given text.
    Photo credit: Joe Hendricks

    Roger Severino, Adult Discipleship – Leadership Minister

     

As you can see, there are multiple approaches you can take to reading the Bible. Here are only five. The most important thing is that you find a way that is beneficial to you and that you will practice on a consistent basis. We read the Word of God because in these pages we encounter the God of the Word.