It’s a Wonderful Life

There are a million or so people in the persecuted church. These are Christians who are beaten and even killed for acknowledging Jesus. They must be wondering why we spend our energy, time and money on Black Fridays, fights over spelling Christmas as Xmas or whether store clerks be allowed to greet us with Merry Christmas.

In North America, the season of Christmas is so far removed from its real purpose that it is almost laughable.

Luke 2:9-10- And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord flashed and shone all about them, and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people.

May we experience the miracle of the Christ Child with great joy while we sing our carols and wrap our gifts and pray for others. May we give thanks for our freedom in Christ and pray for those who have none.

Colossians 4:18- I, Paul, [add this final] greeting, writing with my own hand. Remember I am still in prison and in chains. May grace (God’s unmerited favor and blessing) be with you! Amen (so be it).

Prayer: Lord God, we remember those who suffer in your name, and ask your blessing, mercy and grace for them. In the name of the Christ Child. Amen.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

Just about everyone has seen the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart plays the lead character, George Bailey, who is so despondent on Christmas Eve that he intends to take his life. He’s rescued by the angel Clarence, who shows him what life would have been like without him. 

I’ve watched the movie once a year for the past thirty years. There are many wonderful messages in It’s a Wonderful Life

However, there are also some not-so-wonderful themes. I’ve been pondering one: joyful sacrifice or bitter sacrifice. 

Joyful Sacrifice or Bitter Sacrifice

As a child, George’s sacrifices seem joyful and other-centered. He risks his life to save his younger brother. He risks his job to save his employer, the druggist Mr. Gower. 

But as an adult, George is consumed with all that he has given up, all that he has sacrificed…by sacrificing. 

I think I do the same at times. I reflect on the sacrifices I have made, and I wonder: 

  • “Do others sacrifice as much for me?” 
  • “Do others sacrifice as much as me?” 
  • “How much have my sacrifices for others cost me?” 

Do you detect a theme? A focus on self, on me

I suspect that I’m not the only person who, like George Bailey, sometimes grows regretful and even bitter over the sacrifices I’ve made. 

The Fountain of Joyful Sacrifice

Reflecting on my “self-centered sacrificing,” my mind has increasingly pondered Philippians 2:1-10. I learn in 2:1-5, that my sacrifice will be joyful only if it is empowered by and motivated by Christ. We might paraphrase the theo-logic of Paul’s thinking like this: 

  • Since you have encouragement from being united with Christ…make my joy complete by being like-minded. 
  • Since you have fellowship with the Spirit…make my joy complete by having the same love. 
  • Since you have tenderness and compassion from God…make my joy complete by being one in spirit and purpose. 
  • Since the Trinity is the fountain of joyful ministry…do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 

If our “sacrifices” are powered by the flesh and motivated by guilt or “should” or “oughts,” then eventually we will collapse like the proverbial house of cards. George Bailey acknowledges in the film that “I’m not much of a praying man, God…” George is a “good guy,” but he is not a “godly man,” not a Christ-redeemed, Spirit-empowered man of God. 

Mr. Potter, the evil villain in the movie, recognized this about George. He confronts him, explaining that while he (Mr. Potter) may be a bitter old man, George is nothing but a bitter young man. That’s the one time in the movie where Potter gets it right. 

Unless the Trinity is the fountain out of which our sacrifice overflows, we will become bitter givers

My giving, our sacrificing, must flow out of the overflow of the Trinity’s ministry in our lives. 

Are we clinging to the encouragement we have from being united in Christ? 

Are we being fed by the fellowship with have with the Spirit? 

Are we being filled to overflowing with the tenderness and compassion we receive from God the Father? 

If so, then we will be cheerful givers and our sacrifice will be joyful. 

The Foundation of Joyful Sacrifice

Paul continues in Philippians 2:5. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…” 

Paul then outlines the self-emptying of Christ, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, and being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-8). 

Jesus is not only the One who empowers us to sacrifice; He is the One who motivates us to sacrifice. His sacrificial life is the reason—the only reason—why we should live a sacrificial life. 

Any other motivation is short-lived. And, as with George Bailey, trends downward toward bitterness and regret, not upward toward thankfulness and joy. 

This is not to say that we can’t feel the pain of our sacrifice. By its very definition, sacrifice is painful—a painful emptying of ourselves so others can be filled. 

It is to say that in the midst of our painful emptiness, in the midst of being tempted toward regret and bitterness and even self-centeredness in our sacrifice, we must “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3). 

You see, George never had his eyes on Christ. And, we often take our eyes off of Christ. 

We focus on all that we have given up, rather than focusing on the One Who gave up all for us

If our sacrifice is to be joyful, then Jesus must be the reason for our giving. 

Jesus must be the fountain out of which our giving overflows. 

Jesus must be the foundation out of which our motivation for giving grows. 

Join the Conversation

Like George Bailey, does our sacrifice flow from our own finite strength and human motivation, leading to regretful and bitter sacrificing? 

Or, does our sacrificing joyfully flow from the fountain and foundation of Christ?

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