So how does a $2 cup of coffee look like sacrifice? I truly love my friends. They don’t let me get away with anything. That question was the first thing I heard a couple of Thursdays ago at 6:30 in the morning from my good friend who I have been meeting with every week for the last eight years.
For some context and perspective, his question followed an article I had written in the August 2nd edition of The Republic newspaper in Columbus, Indiana entitled, “Recognizing Sacrifice Beginning to Spiritual Growth.” My contention was that there is profound wisdom in pursuing a life in which one sacrifices everything. Only there will one end up with nothing and everything…and find life. I went on to say that people have not been told that becoming a disciple of Jesus involves sacrifice. Rather, people join our churches and have the disjointed idea that when they accept Jesus, they are entitled members who receive their personal Jesus only to be left longing for more. Without sacrifice we only continue to run in circles on the periphery of life, never to find anything deeper or more spiritual.
I didn’t anticipate the confusion around the word sacrifice. It wasn’t just one friend with one question about sacrifice and coffee. It was person after person asking what sacrifice looks like and how it begins in the life of a Christian. The reality is that what was once a foundational characteristic in the lives of Christians now has to be rediscovered and relearned by a new generation, and this will likely have to be done without the help of the church.
Let us start by understanding that the beginning point of sacrifice is not a cup of coffee. The beginning point is your heart and then maybe the cup of coffee. Sacrifice that begins on the outside rarely, if ever, brings inner transformation, freedom, or life change. Sacrifice that begins on the inside can change the man and the world.
This inward sacrifice begins with confession. That was where a few of us started last week. Not just confession to God, but to each other. Not just confessing the light stuff, but the absolutely shameful stuff. We took the words from James 5, about confessing our sins to our brothers, and stood together under the cross as naked sinners. There was no more judgment left to be levied against each other; the cross of Christ made sure of that. There was just grace, forgiveness, bread, and wine. This was our first step in the death of our old selves and in the transformative work of the Holy Spirit.
Confession can only begin with the repentant individual, but can only be practiced in a community of sinners. Maybe this is why the sacrificial expression of confession has been lost on the church for so long. Could it be that we appear so good and perfect in our churches that there is no place for the sinner, much less a confession to another brother or sister? Do we worry what others might think or how they will respond if they find out what sinners we are? Could it be that I am the only sinner in my fellowship and have been left in isolation and utterly alone with my sin? One might wonder if we have moved from our once lowly position together beneath the cross to a higher position in which we are now the ones hammering the nails.
Sacrificing a cup of coffee is too easy and a cheap badge we can waive around to other Christians signifying that we have given something up in the name of sacrifice. But becoming a church community where the sinner is welcome, because we all are sinners, and then choosing as individuals to become confessional as we stand under the cross together is where life truly begins. That is where the self is truly defeated and the power of God can finally begin to work.